Friday, August 24, 2012

Who is worse? Those who think progress will be easy? Or those who deny progress at all?

== Grouches versus Pollyannas... spare us! ==

Economics-pundit Niall Ferguson has weighed in again.  This  time, in Don't Believe the Techno-Utopian Hype, he rails against the super-optimists -- those who believe that eternal rapid progress will be the natural, even teleologically ordained, result of ever-rising information technology and connectivity. 

That movement -- variously called transhumanist or singularitarian, extropian and so on -- has its world capital in Silicon Valley, home of Singularity University, where zealots claim the future can, must and automatically will be bright.  Reacting with a grouchiness that has political-wing predictability, Ferguson joins Francis Fukayama, Peter Thiel, Bill Joy, Nicholas Carr and others in disdaining the florid forecasts of those I call "techno-transcendentalists."

Much of what Ferguson says about this movement is true, as far as it goes, so go ahead and read his essay before coming back here. I'll wait...

Indeed, emotionally, many transhumanists differ little from millennia after millennia of priests and shamans, who promised to lead every generation of our ancestors toward bright horizons, shucking off the limits of this gritty, morbid, moribund reality. The chief difference nowadays is that our 21st Century transcendentalists have split into two factions.

An old fashioned variety are repelled by technology and continue to offer skyward redemption  via the standard methods.  Whether it's Old-Time religion or New Age mysticism, the underlying trait remains the same. Offer folks a doorway to a better world via non-physical, non-verifiable abstractions -- e.g. prayer, incantation or secret concoctions

The newer type of transcendentalist preachers seem to have the same basic personality and need to promise a better world, only with one crucial difference. Tech-educated and tech-confident, they veer away from belief in incantations toward faith in the unlimited transformative power of Moore's Law.

== In defense of dreamers ==

Whenever I'm around singularity guys, I become the grouch in the room, and not just because I am "contrary."  Only followers of Fox News seem to have less grasp of history than the singularity zealots, who proclaim that Marx-like technological teleology will glide us all into godhood, within a decade or two. Both groups ignore the many ways that freedom and creative markets and other enlightenment miracles were quashed, in 99% of human cultures.

On the other hand, it rankles me to see them dissed by pundits whose depth of insight would not get your toes wet. Niall Ferguson, especially -- a glib lightweight who flounders in the shallow end of the idea pool -- is superficial to a degree that should win him a nice, cushy sinecure at Fox.

For example, Ferguson uses today's parochial social/economic concerns as proof of some grand, generalized, spenglerian decline-of-the-west, and this "demonstrates" that technology-propeled progress is not only a vain hope, but intrinsically impossible.

But while the middle class may have stagnated for a time in the U.S. -- (what do you expect, when a vast portion of their wealth is siphoned by a neo-feudal oligarchy?) -- Ferguson ignores far more significant news. The stunningly rapid rise of middle classes in developing nations.

Neither the left nor the right has any interest in acknowledging good news -- and complicit mass media find even the possibility absolutely allergenic. So, we hardly ever hear about the rapid decline in violence, each decade since 1945, that Professor Steven Pinker documents in his  book, Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Nor the rate at which new generations are becoming more educated and technologically empowered in China, India and even Africa...

...a vast social leap that has been propelled largely by the American consumer and WalMart.  Probably the greatest phenomenon of the last 60 years, and the direct outcome of deliberate policies first put in place by George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, this process of uplift through trade is barely acknowledged anywhere, even by the brightest observers, like Paul Krugman.  It is the chief achievement of Pax Americana.  And future generations will call it miraculous.

True, this fantastically effective "aid program" could be better managed. For example, the US and the west should act more decisively to defend their crown jewels, the intellectual property and fruits of creativity that allow the western goose to continue laying Golden Eggs for the rest of the world. Corporate China, in particular, would seem eager to kill and eat the goose, proof they are not yet wise enough to replace the American Pax.

Still, the bigger picture is vast and fascinating and overwhelmingly positive, overall. The slight declines in America that Niall Ferguson cites -- and that were wrought almost completely by his side in culture war -- are still just surface blips in a trend whose epochal plus sides are beyond the comprehension of myopes like Ferguson.

 Let me reiterate this point, since no one ever seems to grok it. A century from now, the way that U.S. consumers uplifted most of the planet will be viewed as one of the great accomplishments of our age.  (See: How Americans Spent themselves into ruin but saved the world.) Perhaps the greatest. Out of 1945's depth of despair, brilliant leaders like Marshall set up the world game so that its overall sum has become overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, any "economist" who ignores this yang side of the picture is simply a fool.

== Will it be a world for grouches?  Or Transcendentalists? ==

Neither.  In my new novel - EXISTENCE - I portray what is likely.  A grinding-ahead of progress that the wise investment seer John Mauldin calls "muddling through." We will accomplish a great deal of what the transhumanists envision, though it will be grittier and more complicated, with lots more irritations than we are assured. There will never be a point when we declare: "oh wow, we are gods now!"

In other words, it will be like the huge progress that we've achieved already.  And there will still be those of the so-called right and left and mystical fringe - dopes who deserve no credibility at any level, like Niall Ferguson - who deny that progress happened at all.

In fact, we may have a chance to create a fantastic new civilization on this planet, by returning to and enhancing the Enlightenment methods that brought us to this party.  

Methods like transparency and reciprocal accountability and divided power and pragmatic negotiation that have nothing whatsoever to do with "left" or "right" but that are deeply threatened by one side in our current culture war.

If we restore our fervent, even militant fealty to those methods, then this pax will continue to generate vast, positive-sum miracles. But it won't be easy or fore-ordained.  If it were, the sky would already be filled with the alien starships from countless other civilizations who found it easy before us.  That empty sky tells us a lot.  It is gonna be hard.

We can reach for a bright horizon. But only if we ignore the grouches... then sigh and slog past the lovable dopes who say it will come as a gift, as natural as sunrise.

220 comments:

1 – 200 of 220   Newer›   Newest»
High Arka said...

1) Mongol hordes attack a village. 300 innocent children are killed in the attack. Later on, the U.S. bombs a water treatment plant. 16 plant workers are killed in the attack. 10,000 children get sick from poisoned water and die.

Pinker's conclusion: Mongols caused more violent deaths than Americans. 300 is way more than 16! We're improving! Things are great! We're the greatest generation and also angels!

2) American slave owners murder and abuse 24,000 slaves a year. Later on, state-licensed private prison operators rape, beat, and restrain 2 million African Americans a year.

Pinker's conclusion: Slavery was wrong, but the prison system isn't. 24,000 violent crimes have vanished entirely! Zero beats 24,000! Things are getting so much better!

Pinker Kills Voltaire.

Ian said...

" In my new novel - EXISTENCE - I portray what is likely. A grinding-ahead of progress that the wise investment seer John Mauldin calls "muddling through." We will accomplish a great deal of what the transhumanists envision, though it will be grittier and more complicated, with lots more irritations than we are assured. There will never be a point when we declare: "oh wow, we are gods now!""

Generally speaking you're probably right but I don't think we can dismiss the possibility - for good or ill - of the truly transofrmative, disruptive technologies.

(I'm also by no means convinced that the technologies the singularists have been getting hyuped up abotu for the past 20 years will necessarily be the oens that eventuated.)

The capacity to increase effective IQ through Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is potentially as disruptive as the telephone, the aeroplane; antibiotics or the atomic bomb - and that's just one example.

So, no, we aren't likely to become Gods but we could well wake up one morning to find the world has changed abruptly overnight.

Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about Pinker or Voltaire, but I will state this. I had a friend whose brother was a thief and a drug abuser. Eventually his brother ended up in prison where he died of AIDS related illness. Despite pleas to allow his brother to spend his final mortal days in a hospital outside of prison, his brother died in jail. Even after his death, the prison held on to the body for days before releasing it to his family. He felt that the prisons were like one giant group of lab rats at the mercy of the jailers. The question was not whether or not his brother was guilty. The question is the quality of mercy on a terminally I'll human being guilty of drug abuse and burglary. In the big scheme of things, is that the worst crime in the world compared to the one's being perpetrated every day by white collar criminals that destroy people's lives? A government where we expect our politicians to lie to us? A nation by design being raped and eroded from the inside, because it profits a few? Life is not fair. But people can make it better for each other. The problem is, we are a nation of apathetic dreamers without vision save for a few. Instead of worrying about the intelligence of animals and other diversions. How about doing something to help our own species. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. Do something!

Tom Crowl said...

That's one of the great things about "Existence"... it postulates a more realistic sort of 'messy' future socially.

It's characters live in neither the utopia of a Star Trek Federation (which I nevertheless really admire) nor the cold evil Hell of the Borg... but rather its filled with individuals, both human and alien, with more conflicted motivations.

As for the Singulatarians... well, its the seeming passivity that bothers me. It may not be the case but this sort of rationalization: "that all will be well and its all sort of inevitable so I can enjoy my Silicon Valley comfort and wealth w/o concern"... smacks a bit too much of the way all oligarchies like to view the world.

Some say that democracy fails because the population ends up wanting everything for free and this collapses the economy.

I say this is horse pucky!

Or at least a variation on horse pucky.

I believe the population does have fault... but the fault originates from a leadership that abandons the hard work of building and maintaining a troublesome electorate.

YES... I said troublesome! Not anarchic, nor destructive... but involved, skeptical and... well... troublesome.

But leaders don't want this... its entirely natural for them to feel this way. So they offer bread and circuses... and false choices.

And people being people... accept this for a time. In a large society you can get away with this. (It would never work in a small tribe.)

In truth, leaders don't REALLY want to be accountable...

And here's the hard thing to face...

Most, but not all, people don't really want to think about 'government' too much. Avoiding the need to make decisions unless you really need to is, sadly, also a natural human tendency.

"Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them."
- Paul Valery

This is the operative definition...

Scaling accountability is essential.

While I agree the expansion of a middle class globally is a good thing...

It was done with utter disregard for the condition of existing middle classes here and in Europe.

There were (and are) ways to have accomplished this w/o this betrayal arising out of a Randian 'neo-Liberal' social Darwinism.

For the first time in the history of civilization it IS possible to provide means for scaling the 'spit across the campfire' that served to keep the leaders of the hunter-gatherer groups we once lived in... 'alert' to the concerns of their scaled tribes.

Personal Democracy: Disruption as an Enlightenment Essential


Unknown said...

A simple formula capturing population growth rates and changes in gross world product works darn well as a predictor for rate of technological change.

That long-awaited singularity? It already happened. It was called the 20th century. Roughly half of every breakthrough idea ever conceived originated in the 1900s... and we've not even finished R&D on a third of them.

With population growth on the cusp of tapering off (or declining) we run a real risk of replacing the Enlightenment with a 'Diminishment' era if we aren't damn devoted to the tools of empiricism, the veneration of knowledge and a culture of science.

That's the bad news. The good news is we'll keep on sloggin' on and we have a LOT of ideas (and ideas built on combinations of same) to provide a roadmap of technological develop for centuries to come.

So I'm inclined to go with Dr. Brin on this one.

Michael C. Rush said...

>>"Who is worse? Those who think progress will be easy? Or those who deny progress at all?"

I gotta go with Option 3: the reactionary, regressive, fundamentalist set that wants to reverse progress and return society to a less enlightened state.

Ian Gould said...

@Tom Crowl,

Can you offer a single example of a civilization collapsing due to either the usual version of "bread and circuses" or your variation of it?

Tacitus2 said...

A poster above "Unknown" partly beat me to it, but one reason for optimism is that we have the means to control the single most important variable...population. And it has been in our collective hands for only a generation. Already it has had a profound impact on First World nations and an even more profound one on places like Egypt (I am not sure if you should consider that one 2nd or 3rd world). Once the concept (darn puns come automatically now) catches on in the 3rd world we will be a long ways to a better future.
I suppose I am slightly to the grouch side of the spectrum, but a lot of our current world difficulties are either resouce rivalry or just the tribe on the other side of the hill being a little too close.
There do not appear to be insurmountable religious or philosophical obstacles to population stabilization....and we have made such progress in a single generation.
hmm, I seem to be moving towards the optimist end of the spectrum now.
Tacitus

John Kurman said...

Or it could be, Unknown, that livestock management from above (the Aliens) is manipulating population and violence rates because they just happen to need eight billion three hundred fifty million two thousand two hundred and forty bodies to occupy (and maybe a few brains left over to eat). At current rate of growth, I figure Occupy Humanity is targeted for July 5th, 2038.

(Could be worse, could be the Woody Allen scenario of having to do their laundry).

Anonymous said...

The only thing I can state with certainty is we live in extraordinary times and in a extraordinary world. I state this as fact beyond moral judgment because for better or worse, the world we live in is amazing. I hope for the best and see what happens.

LarryHart said...

Tim Crowl:

Some say that democracy fails because the population ends up wanting everything for free and this collapses the economy.


I hear right-wingers use that canard to justify their authoritarian vision. And yet, it's not the US population which has "voted itself the treasury". Rather, the oligarchy has managed to vote itself the property rights to the commons and to everybody's means of survival.

So if democracies fail because the voters grant themselves too many goodies, what does that say about who the real "voters" actually are?

Anonymous said...

There is a theory in molecular biology, which holds that functional structures necessary for life exist at the interface between rigid forms and complete chaos. Evolving life, even that envisioned by singulatarians, might be similarly constrained. The human race is still earth-bound and could be expected to remain so for many decades to come. So the possibility remains that we could veer out of our comfort zone. Mr Brin believes that technology has not caught up with our wisdom, and this bodes well for continuation of the human race. I'll reserve judgement until I see a satisfactory solution to anthropogenic climate change.

David Brin said...

High Akara belongs on Fox. He/she uses exactly their methods. Respond to facts and statistics with some anecdotes... no, not even that, with made-up just-so stories. Facts don't matter, statistics don't matter. The possibility of being wrong? NEVER think about it! Just wave your arms and make the bad facts go away.

The fact that the left is just as crazy, nostalgic and grouchy as the right does not mean to despair, because the left is not the same as "liberals" who are willing to admit that progress HAS happened. And the fact that progress has happened means that we can make MORE progress.

The insanity of the right is that they deride the possibility of progress or human improvability. The insanity of the left is that while insistent on improvability of people and society, they insist there's been none so far.

Both are enemies of progress. But at least the right is internally consistent. Horrible but consistent. The left, OTOH, does not even listen to its own illogic.

(And again I distinguish "lefties" from "liberals"... the only sane force that remains in American political life. God grant that they win in a rout, this fall... and the Libertarian Party under Gary Johnson does so well that millions of non-Randian competition lovers flock to it so that the were-elephant can die in peace and the democrats will face a genuine party of enterprise strong enough to negotiate hard with them.)

David Brin said...

Jeez the same holds for anonymous#1. What a dope. So life isn't perfect and we are still crude beings whose compassion is uneven. So? We are the heirs of cavemen, assyrians, romans and Cortez. Your chidings that we're not yet perfect, while ignoring the vast strides we have taken, is not only counter-productive OF YOUR VERY GOALS. It is simply and illogically dumb.

Interesting stuff Tom C. Of course Gerrymandering is an act of war by the political caste against their True Enemy... the voters.

Michael Rush. Always remember that your reactionaries include nostalgists on the left, as well.

Tacitus, we need not only population stabilization but also vast advances in sci&tech and R&D. Those drove half of our economic growth that fueled the US consumer to uplift the world middle class. And those are the things that may enable us to provide a middle class life to 7 billions at 5% of the environmental impact of middle class americans.

And that is what might save us from climate change... but even if climate change were all wrong (it isn't; it is terrible/scary/real) all of that R&D is TWODA -- Things We Ought To be Doing Anyway.

And for those reasons and many others, the anti-science, anti-rpogress plummet of the mad GOP - a noble movement hijacked by monsters - should the the thing that angers you above all.

CJ-in-Weld said...

David Brin suggests High Arka belongs on Fox, but if you click through to his or her site, the impression is leftist, not rightist. Which is part of Brin's point, right? On this issue the right-pessimists and the left-pessimists sound very similar. Full circle...

ell said...

Two groups of Ostriches: those that deny that anything is wrong and those who think something is wrong but that somehow technology will magically fix it -- and therefore they don't have to do anything about it themselves.

Meanwhile, among the non-Ostriches, someone tinkering in the garage or daydreaming in a bubble bath is inventing something that nobody predicted. And maybe it will improve the world or make it worse -- but it WILL change the world.

ell said...

Too much carbon dioxide is bad for plants:

http://news.yahoo.com/akin-company-5-politicians-got-science-wrong-204204034.html

David Brin said...

ell... the actual bestiary is this.

1) Those alienated against the constant push for progress and horizon expansion, grouchily disdainful of the notion that humans and their society can be improved... this is the conservative personality, which has been pushed to its limits and beyond into territory of blind rage.

2) Those who are frenzied FOR the push for human and societal improvability, yet for some illogical and insane reason insist that progress has never happened yet... and actually believe that helps their sales pitch!

They believe that to admit that there's been progress might reduce the fire of desire for more. They are crazy. This is the "left."

3) Those who want lots of progress and think it will happen as a natural outcome of burgeoning information flows and Moore's Law. In fairness, many of these transhumanists know it will take hard work and that "bad" versions of the singularity must be noted and avoided. I can work with them, even agree with them somewhat. Still, their personality is transcendentalist and it brings out the grouch in me.

4) Liberals. Heirs of both Adam Smith and ML King. Despise dogmas. Want progress and believe in it and that it has happened, but are suspicious of claims that it can ONLY come from the state or from forced generosity or from capitalism, but are willing to discuss what each tool is good for.

The only force left in American life that believes in Pragmatic negotiation,they are often told they believe leftist things, especially by guys like Hannity who cram the loony left's worst statements down the throats of tens of millions of american liberals who believe no such things.

Alas, sometimes liberals let themselves be talked into calling themselves "leftists." This is tragic. The heirs of Adam Smith (the true writer/philosopher and not the caricature) should make clear, they need the lefties as allies, right now, but they are different.

See this:
http://www.davidbrin.com/1947.html

5) Libertarians. Our biggest tragedy. A movement taken over by radical transcendentalist dreamers who think we'll achieve Marx's paradise through the prescriptions of Marx's heretical acolyte Ayn Rand. If enough Republicans fled to the LP, the randroids might be marginalized by those who are rightfully SUSPICIOUS AND SKEPTICAL of state solutions but who will negotiate with liberals how to incrementally make a better world.

One can dream.

LarryHart said...

ell:

Two groups of Ostriches: those that deny that anything is wrong and those who think something is wrong but that somehow technology will magically fix it -- and therefore they don't have to do anything about it themselves.


I see one group who are the "leftists" Dr Brin distinguishes who insist that America is wrong about...everything.

I see another group, the right-wing, who lumps Dr Brin's "liberals" in with those lefties and insists that nothing can possibly be wrong with America because it's America gosh darn it!, and to even suggest that America might need improvement in any area is unpatriotic to the point of treason. That is, they insist so when the complaints are about America being too right-wing. As soon as they themselves perceive political motion toward the left, then THEY get to complain all they want about the President, the Congress, the USSC, and any other American institution. And they wouldn't even perceive a contradiction between their own whining and their reaction to the whining of others.

High Arka said...

Dr. Brin, you surely know that one of the key principles behind modern scientific theories is falsification: if a theory can't be proven wrong, it's not verifiable (and hence, not a scientific theory), and if a theory can be proven wrong, then it's been disproven. If you read his book in detail, you'll notice that those thought experiments I provided are actually examples from some of the arguments he makes.

Pinker's use of statistics violates the most basic principles of drawing meaningful policy conclusions from data. He cherry-picks numbers to make "past" look worse than "present," and even that cherry-picking occurs within the context of Pinker having already decided that certain acts--such as poisoning water supplies, cutting off food or medicine delivery, or military intelligence operations--are not "violence" at all.

You'd do better thinking of Pinker as a priest than as a scientist. By defining what a "miracle" is before he begins his analysis, he's guaranteed that no one can disagree with him inside the framework he's established as acceptable for inquiry.

David Brin said...

High Akira you perfectly illustrate your own point! You wave your arms at Pinker, accusing him of exactly what YOU are doing.

Nor do you even deign to consider MY point of whether you have an emotional (and illogical) need to decry the possibility that progress has happened. Since that reflex is almost universal on the left... nearly as pervasive as hysterical hatred is not, on the right) you bear a burden to ponder the accusation and answer it.

In fact, Pinker's results are not cherry picked. The fraction of humanity today that EVER saw their city besieged or sacked or heard the march of an invading army or heard tha mass raping of the women or experienced the lash of a feudal lord is down to minuscule percentages, though these were NORMAL in all times past.

You can make comparisons to FoxxConn factories in China, but I refute that:

1) All the people in those factories choose to be there... they could be back on the land. Conditions are bad BY OUR STANDARDS but they are better than home and all their kids are in school.

2) Point #1 is not excusing FoxxConn and for you to think so proves my point about illogic and insanity. We should keep up forward pressure and YOU are a living example of human progress, because there are millions like you today who worry about conditions in foreign factories. There were NOT such millions in days past.

YOU are living proof that YOU are wrong about lack of progress.

What is saddest of all is that your reflex prevents you from even understanding the point that I just raised. Were your life to depend upon it, you could not paraphrase or restate, even in disagreement, the actual point that I am making here.

Instead you envision me as a polyanna, proclaiming all is sunny in the world and therefore no worries. Anyone else here knows that the author of EARTH and THE POSTMAN and EXISTENCE is not that polyanna. But you have no other explanation for my willingness to believe that progress is possible...

... because progress has already happened.

Mountain Goat said...

I would suggest you do a simple experiment: go to your local theater, see what movies are showing, then ask yourself what sort of culture consumes that sort of media. Spin through your radio dial, and ask what lessons are being taught. What I see are vanity, complacency, fear, sex, sex, emotional shallowness, and violence.

You have not touched the cultural questions, other than to assert that your side is correct and the "Fox" side is wrong. What will people be DOING 100 years from now, and why? Why are rates of anti-depressant medication through the roof?

I have more to say, but need to leave. I will say simply, though that the future is in the hands of PEOPLE, not machines, and PEOPLE operate according to cultural rules which our present society are decaying to the point of incoherence and uselessness.

Anonymous said...

Niall Ferguson isn't even trying to make intellectual arguments.

He's trying to curry favor (and money) from rich backers in the 0.1%, who want to be told that they are a God-appointed elite who should rule over the serfs forever, and want folks like Ferguson to tell everyone else whatever bafflegab is necessary to make the serfs shut up and accept that.

Once you figure this out, you stop wanting to listen to a word he says.

Anonymous said...

"The fraction of humanity today that EVER saw their city besieged or sacked or heard the march of an invading army or heard tha mass raping of the women or experienced the lash of a feudal lord is down to minuscule percentages, though these were NORMAL in all times past."

Isn't this due to the fact that countries which have managed to avoid this -- countries which have had progress -- have had larger population growth?

After all, the percentage of the population in AFRICA which has experienced all of this horror you list is PRACTICALLY THE SAME as it was 2000 years ago.

This raises the question of what will happen if a major ecological disaster hits and reduces the carrying capacity of the earth. Will we retain our progress? Historically, the evidence seems to indicate "usually not". Which countries survived massive famines, floods, and general disruption *without* reverting back to brutality? What can we learn from them?

Robert said...

Neil Armstrong passed away today at 82 years of age. May he walk amidst the stars in our imagination for the rest of human history... and if there is an afterlife, may he find the peace and happiness he deserves.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Mountain Goat, I do not have a "side" to declare right. Fox is crazy evbil, but I decry idiots on the left, too. I want moderate pragmatic progressivism that includes lots of market enterprise... which the GOP has actively destroyed.

You want to talk about propaganda? Take my Questionnaire on Ideology. You may be amazed: http://www.davidbrin.com/questionnaire.htm

Anonymous, all of your questions are valid, but you refuse absolutely to face the issue at hand. Which is DO YOU have a reflex to feel revulsion when people claim that major progress has already happened? And what does that reflex mean?

Are you afraid that admitting the liberal progressive program has worked will lessen the drive to make more progress? And if so, are you capable of recognizing how incredibly stupid the reflex is?

You demand the public buy a product (improving the world) while screaming that the product has NEVER WORKED in the past.

I ask the public buy a product (improving the world) while touting that the product has WORKED in the past and therefore we should buy more!

Without any doubt, yours is the crazy reflex and mine would get people to buy into more progress. Yet yours dominates the entire gloomy, sourpuss, horrifically downer left. Look at AVATAR and tell me I am wrong.

Mountain Goat said...

How has the GOP destroyed market enterprise? As fsr as your quiz, I will tske it when I get a chance, but have never been surprised in the past. I know what I believe and why.

One more question, though: please define progress as comprehensively as you can.

Ian Gould said...


"In fact, Pinker's results are not cherry picked. The fraction of humanity today that EVER saw their city besieged or sacked or heard the march of an invading army or heard tha mass raping of the women or experienced the lash of a feudal lord is down to minuscule percentages, though these were NORMAL in all times past."

Case in point, peopel are rightly horrified by the violence in Syria currently or in Libyac recently.

But even by the standards of relativfely recent wars such as Bosnia and the Lebanese Civil War, the death toll in both countries has been miniscule.

Carl M. said...

The Singularity repels many because it is a non-human future. The original Star Trek was to a large degree a western in space. It dealt with Singularity issues heavily, but in either: 1. a negative fashion, or 2. Something for super-advanced beings whom we are not yet ready to join.

I would note that our society is in many ways less modern than it was when I was a child. Where are the aluminized Mao suits? Where are the sky cars? They've even taken the tail fins off cars!

The future was yesterday.

S curves happen.

David Brin said...


Carl.... grouch. In fact, the future will swarm at us when we get REAL liposuction/fatpills. Then spandex garments will be huge and we will feel "future."

"How has the GOP destroyed market enterprise? "

Jesus what denial. The middle class and entrepreneurialism plummeted under GOP misrule. Their sole agenda is to promote the oligarchists and monopolists whom Adam Smith despised. Startups and small businesses ALWAYS do better under democrats.

Robert said...

Let's put it this way. Under eight years of misrule of Bush, banks were able to utilize predatory lending and other practices that were quite harmful for small business owners. The ones who succeeded best were the ones who hired accountants who were versed in bank practices and were able to steer their clients around the predatory practices. In short, banks and accountants were in cahoots in some ways to ensure the only way small business owners were not screwed was to pay protection money to said accountants.

You want to see what Republicans did? Here's a metric you can find. Look at the bankruptcy rate among both businesses and people from 2001 to 2008. I don't count 2009-2010 in this because things were decidedly out of whack due to the recession and how much of the bankruptcies were from Bush and Republicans and how much from Obama cannot quickly and easily be distinguished.

I'm willing to bet you'll see a growing number of bankruptcies the longer Bush was in office. In addition, Republicans passed legislation limiting the ability of ordinary people to declare bankruptcy so that they could not utilize the same benefits the ultra-rich could use to avoid paying their creditors. The end result being a growing population of disenfranchised who are permanently in debt and will never be able to climb out of debt without being paupers.

(Case in point: my brother died over a decade ago. We still get creditors going after my folks for my brother's unpaid student loans, despite the fact they were fully in his name and thus my parents have no legal obligation to pay them. Yet they won't give up. Undoubtedly if my parents paid an expensive lawyer for triple the amount of the loans we'd have them shut up... but that's twenty levels of stupid. Yet it's something more and more people are forced to do to avoid unfair debts and obligations.)

Republicans care about two things. First, keeping their financiers in their good favor. Second, staying in power. As such, they're going to pass legislation that benefits the ultra-rich who are their benefactors and screw over everyone else. Hell, look at what Romney wants to do for tax cuts: he wants to keep the Bush Tax Cuts and then cut taxes on the 1% even further. However, he will let lapse every single Obama tax break which benefits the poor and middle class. In short, he wants to benefit the rich and impoverish the poor. And there are a multitude of sources showing this, including several Congressional non-partisan (or bipartisan) sources.

There. Metrics you can bank on. Of course you'll blow these off because conservatism is inherently lazy and doesn't want to take the time and effort to fact-check or see if their beliefs and values are wrong. But there's a saying: put up or shut up.

Rob H.

Robert said...

Please note, I do not count most of the "conservatives" on there as suffering this lazy form of conservatism. They're willing to think and consider things, which is why the rank and file Republicans would consider them Party Traitors and are increasingly purging them from the Grand Old Party. The end result will be an inbred Republican party that can only win by crook. You know, preventing people from voting, falsifying voting records, fraudulent voting machines, and the like.

This is already happening. The only verified case of voting fraud discovered in Florida was... a Republican candidate who got into office using illicit means.

Rob H.

Robert said...

there=here.

*sigh*

Ian said...

"After all, the percentage of the population in AFRICA which has experienced all of this horror you list is PRACTICALLY THE SAME as it was 2000 years ago."

No. It. Isn't.

I wish supposedly educated, supposedly liberal westerners would stop mouthing cliches that are decades out of date about how Africa is a basket-case beyond redemption or how the UN is mostly made up of dictatorships.

Africa has improved vastly over the past couple of decades (roughly speaking since the ned of Apartheid although the link between the two phenomena is indirect and too complex to go into here)largely due to the efforts of Africans themselves.

Ian said...

Mountain Goat, markets work best with a certain degree of government regulation. Too little regulation is as bad as too much.

The root cause of the Global Financial Crisis and the associated S housing market collapse was failure to adequately regulate the derivatives markets and the monoline mortgage brokers.

That failure is overwhelmingly the responsibility of successive Republican administrations and Congressional Republicans (with Democrats in a supporting role.)

Ian said...

"1) All the people in those factories choose to be there... they could be back on the land. Conditions are bad BY OUR STANDARDS but they are better than home and all their kids are in school."

The typical Shenzhen factory worker is a young women in her late teens or early 20's. In addition to their salary they typically get free food, accommodation and medical care.

Most of them work in the factories for no more than 3-5 years then go home with a large (by Chinese standards) nest-egg which they use to buy land or start a business.

That's the average or typical experience - there are abuses and there are people who for whatever reason (e.g. dependents back home requiring continuing financial support) get stuck working in the factories long-term.

But what you say is broadly correct David.

David Brin said...

contrarian veer! We should press China HARD about such things as ecological harm and labor rights etc. And intellectual property. They are definitely more positive than negative. But they need pressure.

Ian said...

David, absolutely.

But the priority should be in ensuring that existing Chinese labor laws and environmental laws are actually enforced.

Tony Fisk said...

Crowd control... face recognition software can
pick you out at any time.
It can hold you to account in future, or be used
to maintain your anonymity in a public forum.

Crowd controls... expression recognition can tell an orator
just how well the pitch is going.. or not.

Technology is a tool.

I think the 'culture dial' described by mountaingoat
is misleading because folk are finding other ways to amuse themselves.
Interctive pursuits in ways not possible even a decade ago.

Alex Tolley said...

Ferguson is just digging holes for himself with these NewsWeek articles The referenced article is almost incoherent - comparing long term to short term outcomes, anecdotal perceptions of what constitutes technological advance. He argues from authority as well, not a good approach for an academic.

The last 100 years of history clearly show that neither the best nor the worst outcomes came to pass. Which doesn't mean this will continue, but as history is determined by non-deterministic human actions, we can probably rely on human groups influencing outcomes to prevent the worst, whilst not reaching the best.

BTW, I am not convinced flying cars was ever a good idea. The nth-order effects are rarely discussed in favor of the dream of individual flight.

Ian said...

@Alex Tolley,

when we figure out how to stop drunks exposing themselves to people on the ground, vomiting on them and winning Darwin Awards by attempting to cannonball into backyard swimming pools from 100 Metres up, MAYBE we can start thinking about flying cars.

Ian said...

" Blogger Mountain Goat said...

I would suggest you do a simple experiment: go to your local theater, see what movies are showing, then ask yourself what sort of culture consumes that sort of media. Spin through your radio dial, and ask what lessons are being taught. What I see are vanity, complacency, fear, sex, sex, emotional shallowness, and violence."

I would suggest an equally simple experiment: nominate a year in the past when you think the culture was healthier than now - then go look up the crime rates for that year.

Also, what's this "our present society" Paleface?

High Arka said...

Recalcitrant natives do tend to need pressure. Dr. Brin, your call for more pressure on the Chinese is terrifyingly similar to the imperial rhetoric of the Spanish-American War, or of any other powerful westerner over the past several hundred years commenting on how those damned Chinese just wouldn't open up their markets fully enough for our penetration.

Ian said...

"Recalcitrant natives do tend to need pressure. Dr. Brin, your call for more pressure on the Chinese is terrifyingly similar to the imperial rhetoric of the Spanish-American War, or of any other powerful westerner over the past several hundred years commenting on how those damned Chinese just wouldn't open up their markets fully enough for our penetration."

Ah yes, the poor benighted backwards Chinese.

How lucky they are to have middle class white American liberals who know what's best for them.

Meanwhile, in the real world, actual Chinese people's main complaint against the west is that we won't open our markets fully enough to their exploitation.

Robert said...

BTW, Dr. Brin, are you planning on writing up a tribute or anything for Neil Armstrong? Just curious.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Notice how High Akira relentlessly proves my point. He/she did not answer my challenge to paraphrase why gloom does not help progress, because he/she knows that he/she cannot. Parsing what I meant is simply impossible...

...so move on to the next reflexive us-bashing. Anything "other is automatically good and we are automatically bad, even when that other is using our consumer dollars to oppress labor, commit eco-atrocities and create huge disparities of wealth. Because it is the other doing it, it is none of our business to lecture them that they ought to copy our labor and eco laws.

Indeed, Akira would deny that we have ANY labor or eco laws worth a damn, right Akira?

I LOVE it when folks like this drop by! It makes me feel all BALANCED after weeks spent trashing the Romneyite liars and oligarch plotters of the right.

Oh, by the way, I don't listen for ONE second to complaints that America is only getting payback for colonialism from the Chinese. Now dig this and dig it well...

Across the last 4000 years, China has never had a foreign friend as good as the United States of America. None that ever ever came remotely close. The US denounced Britain's Opium Wars, refused to join in the grabbing of territorial concessions by everyone from Russia to Japan, spoke up relentlessly about respecting Chinese sovereignty -- while pleading for the idiotic Manchus to modernize and give more freedoms.

When China was attacked by Japan, only the US spoke up and acted. The trade embargo against Japan hurt us but it hurt the Japanese so bad they too a chance to wage war on us. Our men and women DIED because of an embargo meant to force Japanese troops out of China and US fliers were there for 2 years fighting for China before Pearl Harbor.

And in the seventies we kept the Soviets from nuking China flat.

Yes, our ally Chiang was less than admirable. We were fumblers and made many mistakes, including betraying Ho Chi Minh. But the overall policy was the best China even faced from an external power. Ever. So no, they are NOT getting even for colonialism. Rather, they are ravishing the best friend they ever had.

Ian said...

'The US denounced Britain's Opium Wars, refused to join in the grabbing of territorial concessions by everyone from Russia to Japan, spoke up relentlessly about respecting Chinese sovereignty -- while pleading for the idiotic Manchus to modernize and give more freedoms."

As you already know David, I disagree with you about most of this.

How does the Beijing Expedition and the ensuing week of looting, rape, murder and destruction of national treasures fit in with "respecting Chinese sovereignty"?

Not to mention then extorting billions from China to pay for it.

Ian said...

See also the Treaty of Wangxia which was the first treaty to impose the principle of extraterritoriality on china.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Wangxia

How exactly was Chinese sovereignty protected by allowing American sailors to rape Chinese women in the streets of Shanghai in broad daylight, shoot and kill Chinese police who attempted to arrest them and then walk free in American courts after the testimony of dozens of Chinese witnesses was excluded?

Mountain Goat said...

I will repeat that it seems reasonable that a piece which mocks someone else for their ostensible intellectual incoherence would do well do define "progress". It is not an unreasonable request: on the contrary, defining one's terms is essential to the effective use of logic.

As far as the culture, I would submit that social psychological evidence is clear that frequent exposure to violence in media causes decreased empathy, diminished creative problem solving skills, breeds pessimism, and in fact not infrequently leads to increases in actual violence.

This research is well summarized in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Viewing-Violence-Madeline-Levine/dp/0385476868

As far as the Republicans not supporting small business, if this is the case, why do 54% of small business owners believe Republicans best support their interests? http://www.cnbc.com/id/48782604

How many of you commenting are small business owners, or know many of them? I am self employed, and as a sales executive have met with many dozens of business owners, some of quite large firms.

Universally, the people I meet believe that Democrats mean higher taxes and increased regulation (more paperwork, more employees just to keep up).

Obama's EPA even now is trying to shut down dozens of perfectly good coal plants in the coal belt, simply to comply with some idiotic bias against coal, even though it has not been a pollutant for decades. This will raise energy costs hugely in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and elsewhere. This would not be happening under Romney.

Mountain Goat said...

Part 2And it is interesting to say the least that people would simultaneously condemn the Bush tax cuts and that he hurt small business. How? In what way? By cutting their taxes?

As far as 2008, you have to be stupid not to understand that the problem with the derivatives--the credit default swaps and the like--is that the underlying mortgages failed. CDS's are basically like insurance. They only come into play when the mortgage defaults.

One can ask: why would so many banks make bad loans? Surely they knew they would have to pay the piper sooner or later? No, they didn't have to pay the piper. They got away with it.

The situation was simple: Main Street Bank makes a loan to Slim Shady, who offers 3 baseball cards, and a VERY sincere handshake to close the deal on a $100,000 home. Main Street Bank closes the mortgage, then sells it the next day for $110,000 to Fannie Mae, who had NO restrictions on who it could lend to. It had no lending standards. Yet, it also got AAA credit ratings, the preferred interest rates that went with it.

If they didn't sell it to Fannie Mae, they sold it to Wall Street, who repackaged it as a mortgage backed security. These securities also got AAA--government grade--ratings. Why? Simple: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backed them.

Then, oops, both went bankrupt. This caused the Credit Rating Agencies to have to ask serious questions about their ability to actual pay out in the event of mass default. In short order the mortgage backed securities were downgraded, then they couldn't be sold. This created massive cash flow problems that were unanticipated, as well as MASSIVE liabilities in the Credit Default Swap market that were also unanticipated.

Who was to blame? Well, who prevented Bush from creating regulatory standards for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? The Democrats, by and large, and Chris Dodd and Barney Frank in particular.

The ideas I am seeing here are unserious. I see Fox getting criticized, but the arguments I am seeing are parroted from MSNBC or the equivalent.

I've been susceptible to economic ups and downs since roughly 1995, and I can definitely say the Clinton years were better than the Bush years, but that Obama is no Clinton. People forget that Clinton reformed welfare, in the face of both stiff Democrat opposition, and stiff Republican pushing. Obama is doing his best to undo everything Clinton accomplished.

With regard to this topic, until we know what is meant by progress, it is hard to speak intelligently. From my perspective, I do not feel that children nowadays receive genuinely Liberal educations. They are taught slogans and science, with science being optional.

Jonathan S. said...

Flying cars are a terrible idea, at least before complete computer control is possible. Watch a rush-hour traffic reports in your area - humans can't manage to travel in two dimensions with any degree of reliability! Can you imagine having to watch out for people trying to cut you off, not only to the left and right, but above and below as well? [shudder]

On the other hand, we are driving cars today that would have been equally impossible fifty years ago - cars that can be driven for over 100,000 miles without an overhaul or tuneup, because modern computer controls mean that carburetors don't get stuck any more, and fuel/air mixtures are automatically adjusted, so the cylinder linings in internal-combustion engines don't burn out nearly so fast. (I speak from experience here; as a child, I had to assist my father in rasping the crud off of combustion cylinders during overhauls of more than one car, while today my driveway currently hosts a 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe with over 110,000 miles on it, with no more maintenance than occasional oil changes and one new air filter, and which passed its emissions inspection yesterday.)

Ian said...

http://www.chinaforeignrelations.net/node/206

Treaty of Tianjin, 1858

see Articles 11-15

Ian said...


"Who was to blame? Well, who prevented Bush from creating regulatory standards for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?"

1. Subprime loans which were not insured by Fannie Mae an Freddie Mac had higher default rates than insured mortgages.

2. You assume that had Bush had more power to regular the federal inusrers he woudl have used it competently and in such a way as to avoid or minimize the collapse.

Literally nothing about Bush's Presidency suggests he had the ability to do so.

High Arka said...

David, do you see a meaningful difference between an invading army whose marching can be heard, or a permanent military base that a government has been leveraged into conceding, whose soldiers are not subject to local laws?

What if the soldiers occasionally shoot or rape locals without punishment?

What if the jet engines can be heard daily, and the high brass bribes and menaces local politicians so effectively that no organized resistance is ever offered?

There is less violence in supermax prisons than in minimum security prisons, simply because the prisoners are kept alone in poured-concrete cells, and have no opportunity to attack one another. Does this mean that the supermax situation--or a worldwide network of military bases, black-ops sites and food/medicine sanctions--is better, more humane, or more angelic than honest invasion?

If a Chinese person is whipped until they work, versus given the option of working or starving, is there more free choice involved in the second situation than in the first?

My concern for the starving and bombing of children is not something new that surfaced in the enlightened west in the 21st century, or even the 20th. If you believe that human compassion for people in other countries did not occur much until recent times, that is a very sad vision.

I invite you to consider my Pinker article with more specificity as to his statistical methods. He ignores:

1) How advances in medical care and response time result in fewer wartime deaths irrespective of the level of violence or technology employed by combatants;

2) How governments do not always accurately report all wartime casualties;

3) Black ops, which occupy a sizable portion of the US budget, and which occur under the direction of many other governments as well;

4) That civilians don't always report violent crimes, such as rape or physical abuse;

5) Millions of deaths caused by cheaply preventable illness, forced population movement, starvation, and wartime environmental poisoning.

To an American book-reading or TV-watching audience, these things appear nicer and cleaner than the actual stabbing of a person with a sword. However, they are far deadlier, and cause even more drawn-out, sadistic terror for the mountains of casualties they leave behind.

Ian said...

Mountain goat:
"Obama's EPA even now is trying to shut down dozens of perfectly good coal plants in the coal belt, simply to comply with some idiotic bias against coal, even though it has not been a pollutant for decades. This will raise energy costs hugely in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and elsewhere. This would not be happening under Romney."

Actually, mountain goat, the EPA is complying with a supreme court ruling requiring them to enforce existing laws. That's the same Supreme court that has a Republican-appointed majority.

You are, in effect, suggesting that Romney would operate in violation of US law.

Additionally, I would be interested in the source of your claim that coal is no longer a pollutant. when exactly did the laws do physics change to produce this result?

finally, coal plants are shutting left and right in the US for reasons that have nothing to do with the EPA.

Specifically, they're closing because natural gas is now cheaper than coal.

You might want to ask yourself how all that natural gas made it to market if Obama is so opposed to fossil fuels and drilling in the continental US.

David Brin said...

Simple. The Beijing Expedition was British instigated and led. The small number of US troops along were there officially to protect the US diplomatic mission.

Also please note, the Manchus were utter utter assholes. They repeatedly ignored American advice and provoked the next catastrophe.

David Brin said...

Simple. The Beijing Expedition was British instigated and led. The small number of US troops along were there officially to protect the US diplomatic mission.

Also please note, the Manchus were utter utter assholes. They repeatedly ignored American advice and provoked the next catastrophe.

Ian said...

Funny I would have thought that any of the countries that didn't participate at all in the sack of Beijing (and there were only abotu eight participants) was acting as a better friend and ally to the Chinese.

Arguing that the US only spent a few troops is on par with "I only kicked him a few times and I wasn't even wearing my steel-caps".

Rob said...

I just finished studying the rhetoric surrounding the Spanish American War. The forces in play internal to the US were jingoistic (that traces back to oath-taking in the name of Jesus, by the way), and anti-imperialistic.

The compromise that came out of it was to go to war to liberate Cuba, a high-minded ideal, and dispose honorably of other spoils. That's why there were schools and roads built on Luzon Island, with much of the rest of the place left alone. Except Hawaii. Annexation by convenience with the advantage to feudal lords, they only broke out from under them politically through vote-by-grandchildren.

It was not as cut-and-dried nasty-evil-America as you imply, Arka.

High Arka said...

Rob, you're focusing only on the Cuban theater; you should look more into the invasion of the Philippines. As America pre-empted the Spanish empire in controlling southeast Asia, it killed more than a million Filipinos who were in need of correction from good white westerners. Here's a quote from a soldier:

"Our fighting blood was up, and we all wanted to kill niggers. This shooting human beings beats rabbit hunting all to pieces."

Of course, as we all know from Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, such monstrous attitudes have disappeared from our political and military discourse, as we honorably liberate and divide the spoils. Southeast Asia no longer bears the scars of imperialism, and the American Democratic Party no longer has anything to do with killing dark children in far-off lands.

Ian Gould said...

David: "The US denounced Britain's Opium Wars..."

while i'm sure indiviual Americans did exacly that I'm strugging to find any evidence that the US as a nation did anythign of the sort.

If you can provide a source David i'd appreciate it.

High Arka said...

(Ian, this won't settle your citation issue, but David's right; the U.S. did oppose British imperialism in China [inasmuch as "the U.S." can be said to take policy positions].

Unfortunately, they did so for the same reason the Chinese opposed Japanese imperialism in Korea, and the French opposed American imperialism in Vietnam: they wanted to be the ones extracting resources, instead.)

duncan cairncross said...

Don't you guys see that this is all part of the progress that Dr Brin is talking about?

Our standards have changed so much in the last couple of hundred years, what was normal then is monstrous now.
Yes America did some evil things - as did Britain - as did all of the other countries

Abu Ghraib and Fallujah - are seen as horrors - fifty years ago they would have been normal

Jared Diamond found that murder accounted for 40% of the deaths in tribal society
Nowadays - 1/100,000/year (NZ)
Assuming an average lifetime of 100 years (to make the maths easy)
That gives 0.1% of deaths due to murder

Society has changed - the murder rate has dropped to 1/400th of its "natural" level

And is still dropping!

Our grandchildren will look at us as violent monsters

Its wonderful!

Ian Gould said...

Also David, I'm not sure if two regiments of infantry, a cavalry regiment and an artillery battery qualify as "a small number of US troops".

You may be confusind the earlier and much smaller Seymour Expedition with the China Relief Expedition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Relief_Expedition

Ian Gould said...

High Arka,

Not exactly - the US demanded parity with the concessions the Chinese granted the British - and were quite willing to threaten force to get it.

The "Most Favored Nation" lause was a US invention.

Ian Gould said...

Snark: Mountain goat did coal stopping being ap ollutant befroe or after Mitt Romney made this speech;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BpgLYryI8g

Ian Gould said...

Former Republican Governor of Florida Charlie Crist endorses Obama.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/obama-is-right-leader-for-our-times/1247631

Perry Willis said...

Excellent column David. I finally got around to reading the Ferguson piece. You're right, it sucks. You hit on a lot of why it sucks. I would add that Ferguson has an Albert Speer/Ayn Rand conception of technological progress -- by this view if it isn't grandiose it isn't progress. So he misses a lot of the really important developments. I always points to smaller things, like the the double pained argon-filled windows I have in my house. Nothing like them was available when I was a kid. We've had a revolution of small but telling advances over the past half century. Ferguson fails to appreciate this.

I also agree with you about trade. It's the engine that drives everything.

We would disagree about the Marshall Plan. The countries that received the aid had very different experiences. Britain and France did badly because they were becoming more Statist. Germany did well because it fixed its currency and lifted price controls. The policies were the crucial thing. The aid, as with most foreign aid ever since, had little impact. But I think you're absolutely right about the crucial role of trade.

Rob said...

Arka, you moved the goalposts, proving, once again, David's point about you.

Tacitus2 said...

Rob

Regards the term "Jingo" you are close but incomplete. It is a British term, and is indeed a bowlderization but maybe not of Jesus but of God (by way of Jove?). There was a popular music hall song at the time of some crisis or other in the late 1800's

"We don't want to fight,
But by Jingo if they do..
We've got the men, we've
got the ships, We've got the
money too!"

A reasonable viewpoint regards making war...

Tacitus

btw...working on contrasting Conservative and Liberal arguments for re-election of Barack Obama...maybe for a future thread if this one is nearing closure?

Mountain Goat said...

The court decision in question was one in which the Supreme Court, once again, raped the Constitution in allowing the Executive Branch to develop and enforce laws, which are plainly and with ample cause SUPPOSED to originate only with Congress, the most representative body. As things stand, all three branches create laws now. With regard to coal, the decision allowed the EPA to consider CO2 to be a harmful gas, which is farcical. All such legislation should, by definition, pass through the legislative branch.

With regard to efforts to regulate Fannie Mae, both Bush and John McCain made efforts to regulate, among other things, their capitalization, and their risk management processes. Here is a link: http://americanelephant.wordpress.com/2008/09/17/bush-and-mccain-each-tried-to-reform-fannie-mae-democrats-blocked-them-both-times/

Regarding point one: OF COURSE subprime loans failed at higher rates when not backed--bailed out--by Fannie Mae. The point is that tens of thousands of loans would not have been made had the originating banks actually had to keep the loans.

It is interesting to me to see rhetorical methods used against conservatives that I myself was using years ago against leftists, with the substantive and important difference that whatever accusations of ignorance I leveled, I did so AFTER having demonstrated said ignorance.

One liners count as one thing: evidence of the intellectual incapacity of much of the present Twitter generation.

Mountain Goat said...

I'm curious: how many of you have read the original Lincoln-Douglas debates? Any of them? Do you think you could express yourselves with similar rigor and patience? I doubt this very much.

Among other things, this lack of the capacity for truly following our Enlightenment heritage, one of careful debate using carefully formulated beliefs within a context of generalized erudition, gives me personally cause for questioning how bright our future is, absent drastic changes.

I return to the topic: how can one pontificate about the future of progress without defining what it means? No one doubts that without massive catastrophe--economic or terror related--that technological advancements will continue. But can the meaning of life be formulated scientifically? Our culture is characterized by Scientism, not genuine science.

Look at our philosophy departments: they are completely irrelevant and useless. Look at our supposed Liberal Arts educational curriculums. They make people stupider.

Anonymous said...

I think we are unfortunately PAST the point where certain people declare themselves gods. Using slightly different words of course. Unfortunately those same people control a vast majority of what is currently regarded as "wealth."

David Brin said...

I am starting to find High Akira boring. He/she insists that snarking anecdotes is the equivalent of dealing with statistics. But that'd be okay, if Akira took turns... making a point and then answering direct challenges from others.

But I challenged Akira, directly, to paraphrase my point about how the left stabs itself in the stomach by refusing to admit progress. I maintain that Akira does not understand what I mean well enough even to argue that it is untrue. Akira's mind cannot wrap around the concept. It cannot even TRY to wrap itself around the concept. Even to paraphrase it well enough to disagree with it.

And hence, fellows 'n gals, you can see what I mean about the utter uselessness of the left. They are nostalgist grouches EXACTLY like the Tea Party. And useless in pursuit of the progress that they claim so eagerly to want.

Again Akira I ask. CAN YOU PARAPHRASE my challenge to you? Can you actually grasp - even to disagree with it - what I am asserting to be the top problem of the left?

I hold little hope.

David Brin said...


Perry I will not argue with you that Euro statism doesn't have its flaws. As a moderate, non-randian libertarian, you are - to my reckoning - an archetype of what the US needs... mature men and women who are right-of-center only in that they feel skeptical toward state control and who assert pragmatically that market solutions should always be at least attempted and encouraged.

How I would love to have men and women like you arguing cordially with pragmatic, slightly-statist liberals, over what mix of tools to use in solving a myriad problems. (How I miss Eisenhower)

I lived in Paris and London, each for 2 years and found much of their labor law to be stifling of enterprise and deeply foolish.

On the other hand, medical/health care is non-fungible and inherently non-market and works so vastly better in Europe that those denying it over here are truly in some kind of warped mental state.

Back in 1999 I wrote:

"Instead of reflexively and dogmatically screaming the state is never any good, or that the state can solve everything, we are at last ready to analyze and list the kinds of problems that are best addressed through market forces and which can use a little help from consensus-chosen projects that we take on en-masse, as a free and sovereign people, together. The arguments should be fun and loud, but all the evidence we need is already on the table, if we can get past our reflexes and dogmas well enough to actually bring curiosity to the matter."

Alas, addiction to reflex is a human trait that may stymie, even kill our Great Pragmatic Enlightenment Experiment.

David Brin said...


MG taunted: "I'm curious: how many of you have read the original Lincoln-Douglas debates? Any of them?"

In fact... ALL of them.

Now answer me this. Have you ever read Adam Smith? All of him? Or the letters of the revolutionary committees of correspondence? Do you have even a clue against whom the US revolution was fought? Or how radically the founders acted to reduce the threat of owner-oligarchy which had stifled every nation for 6000 years?

You accuse others of shallowness, yet your entire set of statements was anecdotes, unsupported assertions and fact-free arm wavings, which is what conservatism has been reduced to. (Hear that whirring sound? It's Barry Goldwater and Bill Buckley spinning in their graves.)

How about challenges? Proof by inability to find counter examples.

Name for us ONE unambiguous metric of national health that unambiguously improved as a direct result of Republican rule during 2001 to 2009. One. We'll wait. Indeed, name more than a couple that did not plummet. e.g.:

- the near utter destruction of the US Army reserves and national guard.

- the dive off a cliff of economic deficits, collapse and despair.

Name a clade of intellect and knowledge in American life that is not under attack by the Murdoch and his Saudi co-owners at Fox. Two? Three? Any at all?

Show us that US federal taxes are historically high. Are you willing to put money on it? Or the number of federal bureaucrats, or the number of regulations or the federal share of the economy. PUT MONEY ON THESE ASSERTIONS. Or else,,,, you are a coward.

Another bet... that you can roll-op randomly any decade and place that had agriculture across the last 6000 years, and the oppressors of freedom and market competition will turn out to be owner-oligarch-lords. Then roll up another, and another. I bet you you'll roll 100 times before finding a decade and place when/where the oppressors were bureaucrats or socialists.

Here are some facts I am willing to bet you over. The middle class and entrepreneurial startups and market caps all go UP under democrats and down under goppers. BET ON IT.

That nearly all of the horrific debt you are upset about came from two vast quagmire wars of attrition in Asia in places where they hate us... plus vast gifts of trillions to the owner oligarchy that Adam Smith denounced as the great enemy of enterprise and that our Founders rebelled against.

Prove this wrong. I challenge you.

Note that not one of these wagers is from a "lefty" perspective. Indeed, I just above slagged a leftist for thinking reflexively and dogmatically... just like you.

David Brin said...

Taunted us about debating tactics and intellect. Us.

Tacitus2 said...

To be fair David, or to use your own words which I hope will be acceptable as close enough-you have held different views on Iraq and Afghanistan.

You described Iraq as an optional war. History will probably agree, although she is a fickle wench who takes a long time to make up her mind.

You have described Afghanistan as a necessary war. Sure you can debate whether a President Gore or McCain would have done things differently. But in war things are not always run according to the deciscions of your generals.

After 9/11 we were stuck fighting the Islamic fundies that attacked us. It is a nice argument that we could just lob Tomahawks into caves ad infinitum, but the Taliban have something to say about all of this.

Tacitus

David Brin said...

Raging grannies... weigh in on 'legitimate rape"...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Anc_gP2_QeI

Jonathan S. said...

Afghanistan was indeed a "necessary war". Leaving the Talibani government intact was not an option, not if we wanted to impress on their terrorist allies the fact that attacking the United States just makes us angry (and, as the large green gentleman said, you wouldn't like us when we're angry).

Within six months, the Afghan government was destroyed, its leadership running screaming for the Pakistani border, and its capitol in our hands. International feeling was such that even in the tribal lands of western Pakistan, the Talibani would probably not have found the shelter they enjoy today. We were on the verge of doing what no nation has done since Alexander - defeat and control Afghanistan.

And then Dubya threw it away in a pointless second front against someone whose greatest affront against our nation was to threaten his daddy - not even harm him, just try to. But Dubya apparently had to prove he was a real Texan, and get revenge. Very Middle-Eastern of him - probably has to do with having such a close personal relationship with the House of Saud. Thousands of lives and billions of dollars were thrown into that quagmire - in one memorable case, literally, in the form of 12 billion dollars in cash that was flown to Iraq, and "vanished".

From that point, the fight in Afghanistan became one we could not win, at least not in the form we wanted to - not enough manpower, not enough resources, and the international goodwill that could have been bent against those fleeing the field pissed away in a pointless display of "manhood".

Ian Gould said...

"The court decision in question was one in which the Supreme Court, once again, raped the Constitution in allowing the Executive Branch to develop and enforce laws, which are plainly and with ample cause SUPPOSED to originate only with Congress, the most representative body. As things stand, all three branches create laws now. With regard to coal, the decision allowed the EPA to consider CO2 to be a harmful gas, which is farcical. All such legislation should, by definition, pass through the legislative branch."

So you ARE saying that as President Romney should ignore those Supreme Court decisions he dislikes.

In order to defend the Constitution.

"One liners count as one thing: evidence of the intellectual incapacity of much of the present Twitter generation."

Not being part of the Twitter gneration in my case they reflect soemthing else: the degree of tiem and energy I feel responding to your posts merits.

Your consistent failure to address many of the points I do make, justifies that view.

Hence, for exampe, i'm not goign to spend the five minutes it woudl require to explain to you why your argument re. subprime loans is incorrect.

Tha's becasuse even assuming you read and understood it, you'd simply find soem excuse ot brush it off.

Rob said...

Tacitus, I almost copied the song myself. When I say I've reviewed the rhetoric leading up to the Spanish American War, I mean it rigorously.

The term "by Jingo", according to more sources than Wikipedia, is substitute for "by Jesus", in the same way that "crap" and "heck" and "gosh" and "pee" substitute for other vulgar terms.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but that was a drinking song sung by bellicose Brits interested in a bellicose foreign policy vis a vis the Russian Empire and the Ottoman, of a piece with the Anglo-Saxonism ascendent in both Britain and the US at the time, wasn't it? The context is an all-too-willingness to make a war happen.

Ian Gould said...

"We were on the verge of doing what no nation has done since Alexander - defeat and control Afghanistan."

I'm sorry for the pedantry but I hear this claim or variants of it repeatedly.

Afghanistan has been conquered and controlled repeatedly: by the Mongols; by several different Persian dynasties; by Tamerlane. Even the British after their initial defeat went back and imposed their control over the country for about 70 years.

For most of its recorded history, in fact, the majority of modern Afghanistan has been controlled by one or other external power.

The idea that Afghanistan can't be conquered arises from cherry-pickign two points from their history: the British Retreat from Kabul and the Russian withdrawal in the 1990's (which had more to do with the collapse of the Soviet economy than with the military situation on the ground in Afghanistan).

The argument is advanced in support of the view that the US shouldn't attempt a permanent occupation of Afghanistan. Regardless of the merits of that argument (and it strieks me as a strawman arguemnt anyway) it should be argeud on the basis of facts.

David Brin said...

Tacitus there were two Afghanistan -US wars.

Phase one... even though it was precisely what Osama wanted and THE reason for the 9/11 attacks, we had to follow him back to Afgh. He wanted to draw us into a quagmire war there, where his salad days were spent humbling another great power.

What he never imagined was that we would arrive there with utter competence and swiftly eliminate all of Osama's allies from power.

How? By following the Pentagon's preferred methods which are the use of minimal necessary-effective force. The DEMOCRAT'S WAY OF WAR. Using exactly the same military methods and doctrines that they had used effectively to finish off Serbian aggression in the Balkans. The same methods that President Obama used in Libya and in killing Osama.

Bush had no choice. He had to answer fast so he simply said GO to plans that had been in place under Clinton. Special forces dropped in, supported local enemies of the Taliban, applied surgical air power and won with NO US casualties and at cost of a few million dollars...

...at which point the world was utterly awed. We had accomplished our chief war goal which was to teach a lesson : "Don't mess with us or we'll come in and surgically whup your ass out of power."

"And if the Taliban ever get BACK into charge here? Then swiftly and cheaply we will come back and kill them all."

We could have then walked away. Left the "land where empires go to die." Brought in advisors and twenty billion $ in aid per year and let the Pashtun areas stew and fester and remain violent and leave Afghans to handle that.

But no. We had to go to Phase Two. A grinding-horrid futile endless land war of attrition in Asia, which we swore we would never do again, after Vietnam. Which REPUBLICANS swore they would oppose! The thing that Osama bin Laden most wanted to happen...

... a draining quagmire that HURT US by stabbing our economy in the heart, destroying our military reserves, eroding to a nub the United States Army and leaving in charge folks who hate our guts...

... all while calamitously wrecking our reputation for invincibility... that was the top benefit we got from phase one!

Only one kind of people would do all that. Idiots.

Idiots who weren't satisfied with ONE brutally stupid land quagmire of attrition in Asia. They had to give us TWO! At a cost that adds up to nearly all of the horrific DEFICIT/DEBT that the supporters of those same idiots now scream is the democrats' fault!

Mind you, I wanted to kill Saddam. We owed the Iraqi people, after the way Bush's father utterly betrayed them in 1991 (on orders from the Saudis, who did not want a southern shiite new state around Basra,)

But we could have eliminated Saddam in any of FIFTY other ways than doing a whole giant YEEHAW! brute force invasion based on utter, trust-destroying impeachment-worthy lies.

Leading to a second draining quagmire multi trillion dollar war of attrition in Asia.

And there's any doubt? You can actually sit on a fence and tell yourself you want those idiots BACK?

There is nothing to "weigh" here. This is no argument between balanced "sides." This is a choice between regular people who can be wrgued with...

...and monsters who have done more harm to the United States of America and Pax Americana than anyone since James Buchanan.

Rob said...

working on contrasting Conservative and Liberal arguments for re-election of Barack Obama

Now that Charlie Crist has endorsed Obama, I'd be very diverted by anything well reasoned.

Tacitus2 said...

Others before us have marched in, occupied Kabul and figured they were doing rather nicely thank you. You are assuming that all would have gone well from that point on had Iraq not happened.

Maybe.

But when you control the countryside from 20,000 feet and rely on paying off anyone convenient you really only control Kabul.

Well, we are straying into ContraryTurtledove territory here. My point is that wars do not always procede in the fashion dictated by generals. Real ones or amateur ones.

Tacitus

DVGill said...

Remember the great 16mm audiovisual wonders we watched in school when we were kids? Classic pieces of modernism. The ideas about flying cars and cities on the moon came from these films, as did the certainty of the defeat of disease, and the unlimited benefits of atomic energy. I keep a record album on my office wall called "The Space Age: The Age of Reliability."
I love irony.

Progress is itself a loaded term,(For whom? Under which circumstances?) which is where most of this argument comes from. Real progress is rhizomatic, messy, and unpredictable; very postmodern concepts.

David, I finished Existence. Thank you. I consider the Fermi Paradox to be the greatest unanswered questions of our age.

rewinn said...

As to human progress, may I suggest that Grimm's fairy tales (the real stuff, not the Disney versions) and much of the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 137:9) make the scripts of today's movies tame; we just have better graphics.

It also seems a bit pointless to argue whether Things Are Getting Better or Things Are Getting Worse. Either way, we have work to do (and fun to do!) so let's do it.

Ian Gould said...

The New Orleans Time-Picayune is shifting to a three days a week format along with a new website focusing on day to day news.

http://www.loyolamaroon.com/2.6710/daily-woes-1.2752240#.UDqkFKDW6zU

The long-running decline of the popular press seems to have picked up speed decisively in the last year or so.



David Brin said...

Tacitus said: "Others before us have marched in, occupied Kabul and figured they were doing rather nicely thank you. You are assuming that all would have gone well from that point on had Iraq not happened."

Sorry Tacitus. This proves only that you skimmed my long missive before this one, and did not actually read it.

Seriously, your comment doesn't even remotely have to do with what I said.

Paul451 said...

Ian,
Re: Old media dying.

Always puzzled me why traditional newspapers did so badly on the internet. They had the content, the staff, the archives, the reputation, the experience and the audience. They also have their own in-house advertising system, unlike newer websites that need external advertising vendors like Google/etc. And a second form of advertising, one that thrives online, classifieds. Yet they gave away their classifieds to eBay/Craigslist/etc. They were never able to create communities from their readers. And they were never able to leverage their reputation to becomes hubs for content online.

(In the comments for every story there are people who point out spelling, grammar, and factual errors. Doing the job of copy-editor, for free. Yet in over a decade, they've never added any higher level of participation, never promoted any commenters to "user-editors", nor given them a system of user-editing. Wikipedia is over a decade old. The web itself is two decades old. It's not like the idea is new. They gradually, grudgingly, gave their weekly columnists online blogs, but do nothing to harvest the free content their most prolific commenters would bring. They complain about bloggers using their content, yet still don't provide a Blogger-style host for bloggers to comment on topics of the day, creating new free content, gaining more readers, advertising views, etc... Some, a few, have crude front page filtering if you have an account, but have never provided a mechanism for people to create publicly viewable sub-papers, filtering the paper's content at the individual story-level along their own interests (again gaining more readers, advertising views, etc.) And so on. Basically newspapers should have been the leaders of internet content, recapturing their leadership role from TV & cable & news-radio. Double-click, eBay, Monster, Wikipedia, Blogger, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, these should have all been spawned by newspapers online. Instead they seemed to fight the internet every step of the way, giving away their primary markets to entirely new websites. And the thing I find weirdest, is that even now they mostly still can't or won't do those things, even after wildly successful alternatives have shown them in detail that it's possible and exactly how to do it.)

David Brin said...

Paul, excellent remarks and very thought provoking.

I portray such hierarchical crowd sourced reporting in EXISTENCE.

Biggest problem is micro payements. A way for folks to willingly pay a penny or two to read a NYT article.

There is a fallacy that folks don't want to pay. WRONG! I would pay a nickle for a good article, so would you. What we hate is rigmarole and process, slowing us down. Passwords and okay clicks. If we could click ONCE on a "cent symbol" on the NYT page, we would then pay that nickel. But only if it is that simple to do.

I know how to do that. It is simple, verifiable and could save newspapers.

High Arka said...

Dr. Brin, you seem to be making the point that what you view as "the (American) left" is defeating its own presumed goals by refusing to acknowledge previous "successes" in pursuit of these goals. Did I get it right?

That's an incredibly loaded statement, just like your demand that "the Chinese" shouldn't be allowed to manage things on their own, but need to be pressured by a nation which may soon select Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as its next heads of state, and a nation which possesses a national legislative body that speaks at a 10th grade level.

But let's put that aside, and ask, did this one express your point correctly?

Tim H. said...

Problem is, the smallest unit the New York Times wants to deal with is subsription, and New York isn't that interesting to this mid-westerner. The rock micropayments founders on is financial institutions wanting more for handling the transaction than the price, get past that hurdle, and maybe it could preserve the papers.

Pat Mathews said...

One blogger I take has repeatedly complained that the reading public is hung up on the dichotomy between Business As Usual and The Apocalypse in either its glorious version (we'll all be living in Utopia come the whatever - Rapture of the Nerds being the latest) or its Smash, Bad, Enter Mad Max version.

And the Salvation by Alien Space Bats variety, which I myself notice is always written by citizens of the Empire Du Jour - you don't see an Indian or African or Caribbean author doing that one with a straight face!

Anyway, just to let you know you're not alone.

Robert said...

You know, Dr. Brin, you're right about the payments method. I say this because of the utter ease I have of purchasing books for the Nook. Most books (with the exception of the Harry Potter series and maybe one or two others) that are available on the Nook can be purchased by doing a Search and then clicking a simple button that has all your information already on file.

It's quick. It's easy. It's dangerous in that I could easily buy a dozen or so books without thinking about it. But it works. And what's more, the rise of the 99 cent e-books shows that inexpensive content attracts readers. After all, it's just 99 cents. Unless you're hard up (and if you own a Nook or Kindle, you probably aren't that poorly off) you don't think of 99 cents as a lot of money.

If the newspapers set up accounts with the Nook and Kindle so that you see a paragraph of a story on the Nook and click "purchase article" for say 10 cents... then they'd see people buying and reading specific news content. Specifically, the content that the readers are interested in. And while this is dangerous on one level (in that people only read the news they're interested in), even when newspapers sold big people tended to ignore articles outside their interest and focus on those in areas of interest. (Which is why newspaper funnies used to be so popular.)

So. What method would you recommend newspapers use?

Rob H., who remains surprised that Dr. Brin hasn't done a memorial piece yet for Neil Armstrong

David Brin said...

Robert I have an even better system called "daily disavowal" that is described in The Transparent Society. It doesn't even require as much rigmarole as you have on the Nook.

David Brin said...

Akira, thanks for the attempt: "Dr. Brin, you seem to be making the point that what you view as "the (American) left" is defeating its own presumed goals by refusing to acknowledge previous "successes" in pursuit of these goals. Did I get it right?"

But since you made no effort whatsoever to paraphrase it as an argument, including WHY the left does this and HOW it defeats its own purpose, nor lined it up in order to set up your counter arguments or refutations, you get about a D+

Still, I am impressed that you tried.

On the other hand, YOU should lecture ME about "loaded statements"? When you say: "your demand that "the Chinese" shouldn't be allowed to manage things on their own, but need to be pressured by a nation which may soon select Mitt Romney..."

Yep you argue exactly like Fox. Down to logic and method.

High Arka said...

Yes, this one completely missed the "why" of your argument. Please help this one understand.

(1) Why does "the left" do that?

And:

(2) Why is it America's place to "pressure" China?

In closing, a little Kipling.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Tony Fisk said...

Arka, one of the issues with communicating in a time delayed internet discussion is the danger that you continue to run on too far ahead in your argument without finding out whether or not you are on the right wavelength.

You should have held on to your opinions about loaded statements until David had responded to a single point: was your paraphrase correct?

David Brin said...



Why the left does this? Why is its reflex to always react with aggressive anger toward any claim that progress has happened, or that western civilization has contributed to that progress?

I have my own clear view - backed by experiments and vast evidence - for why this is. But that is not the issue here. The issue is your stunning lack of curiosity about this, one of the central features of your political reaction set.

You aren't even remotely interested in it, in gaining perspective on it, on questioning its logic, or maybe learning how to more flexibly achieve your goald.

Think, for once. If I am right, then you (and your peers) are engaged SYSTEMATICALLY in a behavior (denying progress) that has no intrinsic value in its own right, that actively harms the thing that you actually want, which is MORE progress.

Indeed, you on the left do VASTLY more harm than good, with your relentless nostalgia, anti-scientism, and need to disdain anything that is western or American or tranditional...

...unless it is FOREIGN traditional, in which case it can do no wrong.

==

As for your insultingly puerile, fox-like attempt to cram words into my mouth about imposing western values on the Chinese... YOU have probably hollered about the working conditions in asian factories where women slave 78 hour doays to make our sneakers and cell phones. But if *I* do it, I am somehow an imperialist.

You are, in truth, a terribly shallow person.

High Arka said...

(Tony, that tends to result in continued angry accusations of "You're not smart enough to _______"

We all know where this must end, but the ends, they is not the means, and the journey gives the meaning. Bless you. /hug)

update: David returns! Onward to the next post!

High Arka said...

Dr. Brin, please do help this one. Why does the left systematically do this?

Is it to get attention for attention's sake? Because they (we?) can't perceive the progress that has already happened? Is it just lack of education?

And, is it even remotely possible that the only progress has been technological? A serf with a flush toilet, TV, and couch is better off than a serf with a privy-hole, grandpa the storyteller, and a blanket?

Is a child who grows up drinking DU-laced water and subsequently dies of undiagnosed leukemia better off than a child dashed against rocks by the king because the coffers don't want to pay for another citizen?

Maybe there's a "centrist" position where you can both appreciate technological and cultural improvements while recognizing that some things have stayed the some and some have also gotten worse.

Perhaps forgetting that some things have gotten worse is as bad as the forgetfulness of positives that you lamented in your original post...?

duncan cairncross said...

Dr Brin
"Why does the left do this?"

Arka is not "the left" - If I think of "the left" I think of Ken MacLeod and his Early Days of a Better Nation

http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com

“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray.

“If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders

Both of which sound to me as if progress has been made - and lots more to come

This is "The Left"

Arka is something else

Tony Fisk said...

I think Arka would like Tenskwatawa.

My 10yo daughter read the first chapter of Existence.
She couldn't understand it but
thought it quite good and that she might try it again in a year or two.

Paper bag machinery said...

Great job on the blog, it looks great. I am going to bookmark it and will make sure to check back weekly!

Mountain Goat said...

Lincoln Douglas: Perhaps you read them, but they did not sink in. Your self esteem appears to me much higher than warranted. I will demonstrate this.

With regard to Smith, no, I have not read him. So what? I understand the basic thesis of free markets as opposed to the mercantilist ethos which preceded him. Do you understand that we still operate under a quasi-mercantilist system when it comes to money creation? That a monopoly has been granted by the government to bankers to determine the value of our currency, and that it does not matter which party is in power as long as this power remains unchecked?

Do you support auditing the Fed? That is perhaps something we can agree on.

You state that my statements were fact free. In what regard? I noted that all the Supreme Court did was allow an existing EPA policy to stand. It in no way dictated that ANY President continue that policy. The EPA is a part of the Executive Branch, and thus under the direct control of the President. This means that Romney could and presumably would end this damaging policy.

Mountain Goat said...

I further offered a coherent explanation of the 2008 meltdown, which is congruent with publicly available facts, common sense, and economics. In what respect was this shallow or fact free?

Finally, I again asked for a definition of progress. Given that this is the supposed topic under discussion, surely as a self annointed guardian of our Enlightenment heritage you can do better than ignore me? Surely you would already have such a definition in hand for your own purposes?

With regard to national health, the simple fact of the matter is that our system does not conduce to health; nor will Obamacare, which will amplify what is worst in our system, while leading to rationing of actual healthcare.

Our problem is simple: lack of competition among health insurance companies. This results from State interference in the insurance business. First, not all insurance carriers can sell in all States. There are interstate barriers of the sort which the Commerce Clause was intended to prevent. Secondly, many States--Blue states, overwhelmingly, of which California is of course a prime example--refuse to allow insurance carriers to sell directly to end users. They must get insurance through their employers. This means that if they lose their jobs, they must pay an astronomical fee to afford the insurance. Many don't, which is how they wind up without insurance.

And there are only two types of insurance: true insurance, and prepaid insurance. True insurance uses demographic information in calculating premiums, and only covers major medical expenses. It typically has a high deductible. Ordinary doctor visits and the like you pay for out of pocket. This is what most people used to have.

Prepaid insurance you more or less prepay your high deductible every year. It appears to "pay" for everything, but in reality you pay much more money because if you don't get sick, you don't need to have that money in the "bank". The excess gets booked as profit by the carrier. Typically, your employer pays most of the costs for this, so you don't realize how much money is being deducted from your check, how much more you could be paid if you opted out of the group medical and got an individual catastrophic/Major Medical policy. Again, this is not normally even an option in States run by Democrats.

Our national health is poor since people can afford to get sick and someone else picks up the tab. If you have insurance through your employer, you can take poor care of yourself, and someone else pays for it.

So asking if Republicans have improved our national health is a silly question. My question would be: how is that even a question you can ask? What control have they had? None.

Mountain Goat said...

- the near utter destruction of the US Army reserves and national guard.

I don't know what you mean. I know several reservists and national guard members. They have all been deployed several times, but have not been destroyed.


- the dive off a cliff of economic deficits, collapse and despair.

Talk about unanchored generalities. Plainly, Bush was and is a Republican in Name Only. He spent far too much, no question. But Obama is making him look like a skinflint. Neither party can credibly claim at this point to be fiscally conservative, but as of the moment, the Democrats are plainly worse than the Republicans. They have not even allowed the passage of a BUDGET in 3-4 years.

Name a clade of intellect and knowledge in American life that is not under attack by the Murdoch and his Saudi co-owners at Fox. Two? Three? Any at all?

Again, you are speaking in generalities. Serious people discuss specific issues. Name me a topic in which you disagree with the position some commentator at Fox has taken, and we can discuss it.

Mountain Goat said...

Show us that US federal taxes are historically high. Are you willing to put money on it? Or the number of federal bureaucrats, or the number of regulations or the federal share of the economy. PUT MONEY ON THESE ASSERTIONS. Or else,,,, you are a coward.

I am not going to look all of these up. I will offer up one set of numbers: projected tax receipts over the next four years, which factor in the implementation of Obamacare: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=200

You will note that, indeed, projected revenues--which of course will not be achieved, since trying to assess them will result in something between a recession and a depression--go up a LOT. This is why Obama has not raised taxes: he has known since the passage of Obamacare that tax hikes were inevitable in his second term.

I will note as well that the highest previous receipts were in 2007, some six years after Bush implemented his tax cuts. Non-Keynesian economics, which is to say rational, historically valid economics, work. Less taxation means more growth and less cheating/tax evasion. You get a smaller piece of a bigger pool.








Mountain Goat said...

Socialism as a creed has only been around perhaps 150 years. The idea of sharing has been around forever. What was new in socialism was the idea that generalized prosperity could be generated through generalized poverty; that oppression was freedom; that wanting to keep the fruits of your own labor was malicious; and that bureaucratic tyrants were instruments of liberation.

I will ask you: name me ANY system of thought that has caused more death in such a short time than the "scientific" (Marx's word) implementation of socialism?

And how on earth can you compare a system in which the vast bulk of economic activity consists in small business with, say, feudal Europe? You have to produce something in this economy to get any rewards. That was not the case for virtually any other system in history, other than small tribe hunter/gathering and small scale farming.

Mountain Goat said...

Provide me a link on startups going up under Democrats and down under Republicans. Further: please define what "under" means. I have already granted that things worked well in the 90's under a Democrat President and Republican Congress.

What is very clear is that US companies have cash right now, and they are not spending it. Some $3 TRILLION. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/cash-hoarding-companies-spend-lend-economy_n_1666424.html

Why would this be? Simple: economic uncertainty. We have a Marxist in the White House, who fundamentally distrusts the profit motive and the private sector, who is intentionally driving up energy costs, nationalizing the healthcare and health insurance sectors (single payer is obviously the end goal; only the willfully ignorant and disingenuous deny it), and refusing even such a basic element of self restraint as a BUDGET. Given all that, why NOT sit on your money and see how it shakes out?

My money says that if Romney gets elected, the spending starts again.

Mountain Goat said...

Debt:

What would you call the so-called "Stimulus"? And what gifts are you talking about? You need to be specific. If you want to rail against Quantitative Easing, I'm with you. If you are talking about tax cuts, then no: the tax cuts worked. I personally think corporate taxes should be ZERO. Then we could justifiably ban corporations from making political contributions, since they would not longer be subject to taxation without representation.

Note that not one of these wagers is from a "lefty" perspective. Indeed, I just above slagged a leftist for thinking reflexively and dogmatically... just like you.

In what respect are my arguements reflexive and dogmatic? I would suggest you look in a mirror.

I often get deleted, as there are plainly many people on the internet who are only a fraction as clever as they suppose. They do not go out and court opposition often enough, as I do.

I go years without finding anyone who can teach me anything. I learn in the process of refuting bad arguments, as here.

Ian Gould said...

I was thinking earlier about Mountain Goat's comments about the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and the (supposed) decline in political discourse.

Firstly, the era of Lincoln and Douglas was also, of course, the era of "Bully" Preston Brooks and his legion of admiring fans.

2. I've mad similar statements to Mountain Goat's in the past but it occurs to me now that it may be unfair to compare the intellectual content of formal debates with today's sound-bites. A more apt analogy might be between political slogans and hand-bills of an earlier day and sound-bites and tweets.

"Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!"

"Tippycanoe and Tyler too!"

"Fifty-Four Forty or fight!"

For that matter: "Unite or die!" and 'Gentlemen we must all hang together or we shall most assuredly all hang separately'


Robert said...

Dr. Brin, please be careful. You're starting to tread on ground that is likely to pull you in.

"You are, in truth, a terribly shallow person."

This is a personal attack. You are stating something specific about the person only using what we've seen him or her write on here. For all we know, this individual has a rich and varied background and is just... fixated on certain leftist views (which does not diminish the person necessarily).

Better if you'd said "These views appear quite shallow and fail to disprove my point."

--------

Goat, you want proof about the destruction of the Armed Forces? Record. Level. Suicide. Rate. And no, it's not all Obama's fault. Bush pushed them to the edge and beyond. Obama is using them to finish the job that needed finishing and then pulling them out.

Rob H.

Mountain Goat said...

Ian Gould: framed another way, you have never seen that argument coherently expressed, see no ready slogan with which to appear to refute it, and would very much prefer spending the rest of the day with an unjustifiably high self regard.

As I said in a post that I just wrote, your response missed the point on the Supreme Court. It mandated nothing. It merely--and unconstitutionally, plainly--granted the Executive Branch the power to impose policy without the participation of Congress.

Ian Gould said...

"I further offered a coherent explanation of the 2008 meltdown, which is congruent with publicly available facts, common sense, and economics. In what respect was this shallow or fact free?"

You claim that Federally-insured loans woudl be less likely ot default because the insurers would step in to repay the loan.

That being the case your entire theory falls apart.

This is completely wrong - a default is required to trigger a call on the insurance.

Hence there is a greater incentive to seek to have an indured loan declared in default.

The fact that despite this, uninsured loans had a higher default rate than insured loans clearly illustrates that federal loan insurance wasn't central to the default.

Mountain Goat said...

Robert: that is not destruction. It is a problem. Our ability to fight has not declined. We still have the best armed forces on the planet. I have many friends who are active and ex-military.

We can debate the wisdom of the wars. Ultimately, we will need to see where we are ten years from now. I personally thought that we should have drawn down troops in Afghanistan in 2009. Obama chose to surge. I feel that will over time be shown to have been a mistake. We can keep any ground we want, but only as long as we are there, and the second we leave anyone who supported us will be killed. Given that, a smaller perimeter would have been better.

I will point out as well Obama's greatly increased use of drone attacks. If Bush were doing it, the left would be screaming bloody murder. I will note as well their strange silence on the topic of Gitmo.

I will be off the internet for a day or so, but rest assured I will return. My handle was chosen with care.

Ian Gould said...

"Ian Gould: framed another way, you have never seen that argument coherently expressed, see no ready slogan with which to appear to refute it, and would very much prefer spending the rest of the day with an unjustifiably high self regard.

As I said in a post that I just wrote, your response missed the point on the Supreme Court. It mandated nothing. It merely--and unconstitutionally, plainly--granted the Executive Branch the power to impose policy without the participation of Congress."

In your opinion.

Tell me, what does your Constitution say happens when the Supreme Court and the executive disagree on a matter of law.

I'm pretty sure it has something to do with new legislation or a Constitutional amendment and not with the Executive branhc unilaterally abrogating the decision as you appear to beleive obama should have doen in this case.

Many people also believe that the current Court's Citizens United decision "raped" the constitution to use your not-at-all inflammatory or histrionic expression.

Do you think Obama should have tossed that one too?

Ian Gould said...

In point of fact what the Court found was that successive Federal Governments had failed to properly implement the Clean Air Act - a duly enacted Act of Congress - and ordered the Executive to properly apply the existing law.

Mountain Goat said...

Last post for today.

Ian, my argument was that tens of thousands of loans were issued which the originating banks KNEW were likely to default. They knew it. If they had had to keep the loans on their books they never would have made the loans. The essence of free markets is the feedback loops of both business profit AND loss.


In this case, the government interfered with the market, by providing a buyer for these loans that didn't ask any questions. The mandate of Fannie Mae was to increase home ownership, which they did, in the short term.

The reality is that the American taxpayer WAS on the hook, though, for the bad loans. We will pay out, in the end, TRILLIONS of dollars to investors who will, in the end, get their money back.

The meltdown was caused by the freezing up when it became clear that it was impossible to value properly the mortgage backed securities. Large portfolios suddenly lost value, and could not be sold. THAT was the root problem. The derivatives market merely amplified it. Had the value of the mortgages been valued properly to begin with--had no government backing ever been given to that market, then this would not have happened.

Government was used by some elements of the private sector to make fortunes at the expense of the economy as a whole.

Fannie Mae was FDR, to be clear, and Freddie Mac was LBJ.

Mountain Goat said...

Last, last post: the Clear Air Act did not include CO2. That was added by ignorant zealots.

Ian Gould said...

My last post for the day too. It's past midnight here in Australia.

When we resume, I'd like you to explain why you believe your understanding of US Constitutional Law is superior to that f the current jstices of the Supreme Court.

In a similar vein:

1. I'm a former environmental economist who worked extensively on the economics of environmental regulation and I studied the US Clean Air Act pretty extensively.

Your final statement about Co2 is somewhere between wrong and meaningless since the Clean Air Act doesn't identify specific pollutants.

2. I'm also a former director of financial investment company whose responsibilities included risk asset and regulatory compliance including with regard to a portfolio of debentures underwritten by home lenders.

Robert said...

You know, there are a lot of idiots out there who claim carbon dioxide is not poisonous. Hmm. Have any of you WATCHED Apollo 13? Gee, what was one of the big problems they had? Carbon dioxide buildup. There's a syndrome: hypercapnia or hypercarbia. Look it up on Wikipedia.

Gee. It looks like carbon dioxide IS dangerous, in large enough quantities. As such, yes, it does need to be regulated by the EPA. That's due to the Clean Air Act, a law passed by Congress and signed by the President... and then the judiciary stepped in and insisted the EPA start regulating carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas. And yes, it is a known greenhouse gas. You want to test it? Take two fish tanks. Put a lit candle in one (preferably beeswax as that smokes less and would cause less soot) and cover both fishtanks so they're airtight. Oh, and don't forget thermometers in each tank.

The candle will burn up the oxygen and go out. Let the two fishtanks regain equilibrium for temperature. Then put them out in sunlight in the same area. I guarantee that the fishtank that is full of carbon dioxide (caused by the burning candle) will reach a higher temperature and will remain warmer longer than the control study which is full of normal unaltered air.

This is an experiment you can do at home. There is no special equipment needed. It's simple. It's easy. And it proves this point. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Increasing carbon dioxide levels increases the heat retention of the atmosphere.

Of course you won't do the experiment. No Denier will attempt it because they know that they are wrong.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

Dear @Mountain Goat.
I appreciate your discussion but the following is not true:

"...lack of competition among health insurance companies ....this results from State interference in the insurance business. First, not all insurance carriers can sell in all States"

Insurance carriers can sell in any state; they just have to fill out the paperwork. For individuals that may be a burden but for an organization with a serious amount of customers, it's not - especially since it's a cost of doing business shared by ALL competitors.
State regulation of insurance is a classic victory of federalism or if you will, cell-based government. It is trivial for an industry to capture a federal regulatory agency, but 50 times more effort to capture every state. Sooner or later some Insurance Commission trying to make a name will tag the bad guys.
Would it be better to have a centralized bureaucracy regulating all insurance everywhere? There is no evidence for it; agencies that benefit from centralization tend to be those with high costs of regulation, e.g. those involving expensive testing to detect fatal errors. Financial products don't require expensive test regimes, only serious People With Sharp Pencils.


Also not true:
"... If they had had to keep the loans on their books they never would have made the loans..."

One must make the distinction between organizations (e.g. banks) and the people that own and/or run them.
Smart-but-unscrupulous investors/managers use limited-liability organizations to do risky things, creating an asymmetry of risk/reward.
History tells us that a species of organizations can be constructed that are happy to risk suicide as individuals so long as the risk/reward assymtery benefits the constructor. This we have seen in financial services.

Eliminating the limited-liability corporation would have such grave side-effects that prudence dictates exploring all alternatives first.

Ian Gould said...

Oops, I too need a last, last post.

Here's a link to the full text of the Clean Air Act.

Feel free to quote the section which defines (or lists) pollutants in such a way as to exclude Carbon Dioxide.

http://epa.gov/oar/caa/title1.html

I refer you in particular to
42 USC S 7412 Subsections 2 & 3.

Mike Bishop7 said...

Great post, thank you for sharing with us! AHMSI rip off

Jumper said...

Not to mention mercury from coal, which has made all freshwater fish in my state inadvisable to eat.

Answering nonsense is a dubious task, but someone must I suppose.

Mountain Goat said...

I got distracted, so I'm still home. This debate is boring me, so I'll make a couple responses, then let you pretend I'm an idiot after I leave.

CO2 is why you breathe. Your body does not sense oxygen depletion, but rather CO2 in excess. It is necessary for photosynthesis. It is in every CARBONATED soda.

I got tired of doing the Global Warming debate several years ago, and created a reasonably decent summary of the case that the "science" on the topic is nothing of the sort several years ago. That summary is here: http://moderatesunited.blogspot.com/2008/01/global-warming.html

Feel free to post on there if you disagree with any part of it. Anonymous is enabled, and I only censor purely abusive comments. I'm happy to do the debate, but I will warn you that if you think I'm stupid or ill-informed, you need to think again.

The point as far as the EPA is that the Clear Air Act was clearly intended to regulate pollutants that would not otherwise have been in the atmosphere. CO2 is and more or less always has been in our atmosphere, at time in quantites 5-10 times the present level.

The entirety of the argument for capping CO2 rests on the Global Warming conjecture. Given that regulating CO2 has enormous energy and thus national security implications, plainly any person with moral or intellectual integrity would grasp that the EPA should NOT be able to enter that debate.

And, again, the Supreme Court merely said that the EPA COULD regulate CO2, not that it MUST. Romney can reverse Obama's foolish policies.

As far as other pollutants, they are no longer an issue.

Mountain Goat said...

As far as insurance regulations, you are in error. Not all carriers can sell in all States. As an example, Blue Cross/Blue Shield owns some 70% of the market in Alabama. State regulators keep it that way, presumably in exchange for regular donations. Every State regulates what products can be sold by who to whom. In roughly half the States, you cannot sell health insurance directly to individuals.

As far as the loans, you did not understand me, and I'm not going to repeat myself. The net is that Main Street banks--the ones on the corner--made loans they knew would not perform, then flipped them to Wall Street or Fannie Mae. They suffered no adverse consequences because they got paid up front.

Mountain Goat said...

Here is why I came back. There are few signs of intelligent life on the internet, but quite often looking for it bags me new ideas.

Here are my proposed definitions of progress: http://www.moderatesunited.blogspot.com/2012/08/progress.html

Feel free to comment there if you like. I'm not coming back here.

Tim H. said...

Hit & run, MG? It's not as if we're much in shock at ideas, most of us stick around to take the heat, I've rattled some cages here, and got mine rattled in turn, which is cool, one doesn't know how good an idea is until it's shoved outside of one's circle of belief. When ideas get the rough edges knocked off, they oft fit into the future better.

David Brin said...

Mountain goat has come in and waved his arms around. "Look at that over there!" "This!" "Audit the fed!" Bush was a Rino!"

He did not attempt to answer one of my challenges. Not even one. Even though each one by itself was very very simple. Either you could offer a counter-example... JUST ONE counter example...

...or the statement holds as the lead hypothesis. That is the great thing about proof by failure of counter example! The opponent's failure to provide one counter-example does not prove your hypothesis...

... but it make it the standing assumption that must be knocked down. MG lectures us about debate, yet he armwaves to avoid dealing with this basic principle.

Dig this MG. Those challenges all stand. They are offers of real money wagers. Fox is waging polemical war against all centers of intellect in American life.

Nearly all the debt you abhor emerged from GOP policies.

Taxes are near their lowest rates in 70 years as is regulation.

Talk to a general about the state of the US Army and reserves. Find one and talk to him. I have. Many of them. They all support Obama.

Feh, answer the challenges. Stop waving your arms around.

Robert said...

Ah. So what you are saying is that the sole source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is due to people and animals exhaling. Oh, and we can throw in wildfires since those aren't always caused by people.

What is it that coal plants throw out? Besides mercury and uranium particles, mind you - and yes, coal-fired plants have a higher level of radioactivity in their vicinity than does a nuclear power plant (unless said plant melts down, naturally enough). How about natural gas plants? Oil-fueled power plants? Hmm, I wonder.

I'll wait. Please, answer.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Veering to face a fanatic in the opposite direction... (Hey guys, is this fun or what?) ...

Akra's equally dismal armwavings from the left.

Just as the "right" has abandoned nearly every important mature principle of Barry Goldwater, retaining the nostalgia and suspicion of progress, but turning it into spiteful refusal to negotiate, hatred of science and intellect, and mindless plunges into self-destructive overseas military adventures...

...Today's American "left" tends to be nostalgic, anti-science and completely ignorant of the intellectual traditions of the left. Yes, they believe in progress. They rant for it! But to admit that any progress has ever happened... especially in the West or propelled by western values? Anathema.

Even though... and dig this... their OWN reflexes to disdain their own nation in favor of others is exactly an attribute of this and only this culture. They are a loud expression of ONLY the culture they were raised in. The louder they scream self-disdain, the louder their patriotism.

Akra asks me "why" this trait swarms the left. I respond that Akra is lazy, not even bothering to tryto offer a hypothesis. Lazy.

The surface explanation is that the leftists are so eager for progress that they fear that admitting there's been any might REDUCE THE URGENCY to make more. Admitting that world violence has plummetted and the % of kids with toilets and schoolbooks has risen dramatically might reduce the pressure to keep these improvements going.

Yes, that is part of it... and it shows just how deeply stupid they are. Because you sell more of a product by showing that the product WORKED in the past. Not by claiming that it never did.

But the real reason that the far right and the far left are both like this can be found at http://www.davidbrin.com/addiction.html That's it. They are drug addicts. Period.

The difference? The far right has entirely taken over American conservatism. Half the country is insane.

Meanwhile, the far left is a pack of dispersed loonies, yapping at the millions of american liberals who are still trying to make this experiment work.

David Brin said...

BTW MG... your ignorance of Adam Smith is apparent. Yet you lecture ME about debate.

Kieran O'Neill said...

An interesting post and follow-up comments, and I quite like how you divide people up.

Lately I've been reading a lot of environmentalist thinking, and one issue often raised is that of techno-optimism as a cop-out to having to deal with real environmental issues. Curiously, those holding that view seem often to lie on the political left. (By contrast, the political right in this day and age seems to deny environmentalism altogether -- quite the reversal from a hundred, or even fifty years ago).

I think the environmentalists on the other side of the debate tend to be pretty anti-progress (the phrase "myth of progress" appears quite often). However, they seem mostly to mean this in the technological sense. I don't think there are very many who deny that the social and political inventions of the past few hundred years (modern democracy, gender and minority rights, etc) are undesirable.

And technological progress is curious. It's hard to deny that by many measures, people are better off today than they were 300 years ago. But technology sometimes feels like it's in the realm of diminishing returns on that front. To take a specific example, I think it can be argued that most of the increases in average lifespan since the 1800s can be attributed to a small set of relatively simple, low-input medical technologies discovered or invented in the early 1900s; including vaccines, antibiotics, sterile technique, and basic nutrition. While lifespans have tended to increase since then (at least in places not ravaged by HIV), the rate of increase is slowing, and the cost of the technologies in terms of resource inputs and infrastructure is increasing exponentially. Global society spends an enormous amount on researching and implementing high-tech treatments for cancer and heart disease, with positive, but comparatively small impacts on health. The US in particular spends more on healthcare (both research and implementation) than anywhere else, yet achieves worse outcomes than many other places (though this could segue into discussions of government-run healthcare systems).

Anyway, I thought I would throw a few calm, reasonable and well-supported arguments into the mix.

And I also would like to note that, while I find myself disagreeing with you on a number of issues, I think you are in the correct debate space (which sadly lies well outside the current mainstream political spectrum). Please keep up the good work.

LarryHart said...

Mountain Goat:

Our problem is simple: lack of competition among health insurance companies.


Words fail me.

Insurance companies would only compete for the business of those least likely to need the coverage.

As long as insurance companies get to decide who to accept and who to refuse coverage to, "competition" among them only makes matters worse, not better.

Jumper said...

When I'm feeling paranoid I wonder if Big Coal ever secretly funded anti-nuclear activists.

LarryHart said...

On the CO2 thing...

Are we really arguing about whether it can be dangerous to overload the atmosphere with a particular gas, even though a certain amount of that gas is beneficial?

David Brin said...

Kieran excellent thoughts.

Except...

"environmentalists" is used by you too broadly. You commit the Hannity sin of assuming the crazies in your opposition represent the whole side.

In fact, most environmentalists are liberals and not leftists... and hence they do NOT decry progress. They are the only pro-science clade left in American life and are willing to discuss geoengineering...

...so long as major steps toward efficiency and sustainability come first.

ThemadLibrarian said...

Has anyone been watching Aaron Sorkin's latest offering, Newsroom? Sorkin has been building to the season ender, where he takes the Tea Party crazies to task, and also takes a page from Our Host's book on old school Republicanism.

The Left's position ought to be "We done us some good... now let's go out and do more."

TheMadLibrarian
armmot 5: list of largest arms dealers

LarryHart said...

ThemadLibrarian:

The Left's position ought to be "We done us some good... now let's go out and do more."


I've been advocating essentially that position my entire adult life, which means more than 30 years.

Right-wingers only hear the "Let's do more", which they condemn because it implies there's something imperfect about America right now.

Left-wingers hear "We've done some good...", which THEY condemn because western civilization hasn't been complete angels.

Hardly anyone seems to understand (or at least to accept graciously) the concept of constructive criticism.

Paul451 said...

High Arka,
"(2) Why is it America's place to "pressure" China?"

Those of us not from the US don't automatically interpret "We" as "American". Nor "America" as "The US military".

"We" can mean US citizens, Australians, Germans, Indians, Koreans, Micronesians, and Chinese themselves (both expats and domestic Chinese citizens.) "We" should be pressuring China to use its economic growth to deliver a better society for its people. Just as "We", people like myself who aren't American, should pressure the US to deliver a better society for its people.

At the very least, out of pure self-interest in our own welfare.

Hans said...

This has been very bizarre to me.

I had a lot of trouble answering David's question about paraphrasing his point about "Leftists" and their refusal to recognize progress. This seems to be a completely irrational behavior to the point that I have trouble believing it occurs.

In the same way, I find the "Right's" voting record to be completely irrational: I can't understand individuals so completely voting against their own self interests, and it falls so far outside the normal course of my life that I have difficulty believing it even happens (though in this second case, I have seen evidence of it).

I suppose one explanation of this could be that it is an addictive behavior (the symptom of irrational behavior certainly fits), but I'm uncertain that is the case. I'd usually suspect either laziness or greed, or some combination of the two since these are easy to understand, but that would mean *I'm* lazy (I am, so maybe I'll just go with those and be done with the matter).

Hans

High Arka said...

Dr. Brin,

Is it appropriate that Pinker decided not to call "violent" deaths attributable to starvation/water-poisoning/cheaply preventable disease/exposure due to war?

If a man comes to my apartment with a knife, and I go outside and he rapes me, that's "violence."

If I see that same man standing outside my apartment with the knife, never come out, and starve to death for fear of leaving and being raped, why does that not count as "violence"?

Is the second situation progress?

Mountain Goat said...

David Brin,

I answered you. Actual tax receipts have been trending upwards for a very long time. This means the government is getting larger, using our money. Actual tax rates, among the economically literate, are understood to be related in a non-linear way with tax receipts. This is the point of the Laffer curve, which is still perfectly valid. It was valid under Reagan and is valid now.

I see people talk about how the top tax rate was 95% or whatever in the 1950's. The relevant question is: how many people actually paid it? The answer: very few. This tax deterred investment among those most capable of it.

I have spent thousands of hours debating, and to put it bluntly, the caliber of debate here is mediocre. I spend an hour writing a refutation using facts, and I am ignored by someone who apparently considers himself a genius. All I am doing is the blocking and tackling of reasoned discourse. I am responding substantively to ideas proposed, and expanding upon the reasons why I believe what I believe.

I never used to end such discussions until I got banned for being right too conspicuously for too long, but frankly doing this thing properly--as none of those opposing are doing--takes too much time. I returned just now out of a combination of boredom and apparently masochism.

I will end by noting that the author apparently feels entitled to dismiss as shallow men like Niall Ferguson, but has failed thus far to perform the most basic function of debate, which is define terms. Noodling around, talking about flying cars, and muddling along, and lie detecting glasses is all fine, but it is not rigorous, and as such not suitable for vanity. That is the principle reason I jumped in. Nobody who demonizes Fox in general can be taken seriously.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Heh -- I'm wondering who you think I think my opposition is.

Personally I try to take issues one at a time as they arise, and form nuanced positions on them. I'm also not in the US, so have only an indirect stake in your political game.

But as for environmentalists around techno-optimism, I think one subdivision might be as follows:

1. Cautious techno-optimists who feel that technology will find solutions to environmental problems and limits, but that the process will be long and painful. Some examples I can think of would be Stewart Brand, Bruce Sterling, and, I suspect, yourself.

2. Cautious techno-pessimists, who acknowledge the advances that have happened in the past, but tend to believe that natural limits will exceed our technological ability to advance in the future. (This group also tends to be a bit more hard-line about sacrificing the environment for technology). Examples I would think of would be Douglas Tompkins and Richard Heinberg.

3. Rampant techno-pessimists (Ted Kaczynski?)

4. Rampant techno-optimists, who use an almost theistic belief in the capabilities of technology to excuse their deeply unsustainable lifestyles. The singularity-rapturists probably represent the more extreme end of this group, but a great part of the mainstream falls here too (those who care about or acknowledge environmental issues at all). If you have evidence from opinion polls, etc that this is not the case, I would welcome it.

Personally I would be much happier if the environmental debate could happen mainly between people in (and between) groups 1 and 2. But for the most part that doesn't seem to be the case.

Ian Gould said...


And we're back:

Subsection 2:

"The Administrator shall periodically review the list established by this subsection and publish the results thereof and, where appropriate, revise such list by rule, adding pollutants which present, or may present, through inhalation or other routes of exposure, a threat of adverse human health effects (including, but not limited to, substances which are known to be, or may reasonably be anticipated to be, carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, neurotoxic, which cause reproductive dysfunction, or which are acutely or chronically toxic) or adverse environmental effects whether through ambient concentrations, bioaccumulation, deposition, or otherwise,..."

Subsection 3:

"(A) Beginning at any time after 6 months after November 15, 1990, any person may petition the Administrator to modify the list of hazardous air pollutants under this subsection by adding or deleting a substance or, in case of listed pollutants without CAS numbers (other than coke oven emissions, mineral fibers, or polycyclic organic matter) removing certain unique substances. Within 18 months after receipt of a petition, the Administrator shall either grant or deny the petition by publishing a written explanation of the reasons for the Administrator’s decision. Any such petition shall include a showing by the petitioner that there is adequate data on the health or environmental defects [2] of the pollutant or other evidence adequate to support the petition. The Administrator may not deny a petition solely on the basis of inadequate resources or time for review.
(B) The Administrator shall add a substance to the list upon a showing by the petitioner or on the Administrator’s own determination that the substance is an air pollutant and that emissions, ambient concentrations, bioaccumulation or deposition of the substance are known to cause or may reasonably be anticipated to cause adverse effects to human health or adverse environmental effects."

Ian Gould said...

Mountain goat "And, again, the Supreme Court merely said that the EPA COULD regulate CO2, not that it MUST. Romney can reverse Obama's foolish policies."

No, the Court ruled that the Bush EPA had failed to comply with Subsection 3 - quoted above and that Carbon Dioxide fell within the definition of an air pollutant in subsection 2.

Note in particular the evidentiary standard in subsection 3: "...may reasonably be anticipated to cause..." I.E. absolute proof is not required.

You might also look at the process involved in EPA rule writing which requires that the regulations adopted must be economically feasible and require only the use Best Available Technology Not Involving Excessive Cost (BATNIEC).

I'm sorry but on this topic you are simply wrong - wrong on multiple different levels and wrong as a matter of objectively verifiable fact not wrong on the level of personal opinion.

That being the case, you might want to start questioning more generally the validity of the information sources that so misled you in this instance.

Ian Gould said...

"The point as far as the EPA is that the Clear Air Act was clearly intended to regulate pollutants that would not otherwise have been in the atmosphere. CO2 is and more or less always has been in our atmosphere, at time in quantites 5-10 times the present level."

Seriously?

So the Clean Air Act wasn't intended to regulate Ozone; Carbon Monoxide; Mercury; Hydrogen Sulphide; Methane; Sulphides or Nitrogen Oxides?

Again, if I found someone had been consistently and outrageously lying to me on a particular topic, I'd be inclined to doubt everything they say.

Ian Gould said...

"Ian, my argument was that tens of thousands of loans were issued which the originating banks KNEW were likely to default. They knew it. If they had had to keep the loans on their books they never would have made the loans. The essence of free markets is the feedback loops of both business profit AND loss.


In this case, the government interfered with the market, by providing a buyer for these loans that didn't ask any questions. The mandate of Fannie Mae was to increase home ownership, which they did, in the short term.

The reality is that the American taxpayer WAS on the hook, though, for the bad loans. We will pay out, in the end, TRILLIONS of dollars to investors who will, in the end, get their money back."

Where EXACTLY are these TRILLIONS of dollars in losses going to come from?

Show me a reliable source that supports this claim.

Total losses to date from the federal insurers are around $150 billion with an expected final total of $250 billion.

That additional $100 billion will be expenses out over the 20-30 years it'll take for the underlying mortgages to either be repaid or default.

http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/housing/2010-10-21-fannie-mae-freddie-mac-bailout_N.htm

These figures assume no increase in US house prices and are likely to be an overestimate - both insurers have recorded profits in the past year (based on upward revision in asset valuations as well as operating profits). Those profits. and all profits until the government bailout funds are repaid go entirely to the government.

Additionally, the total value of the mortgages insured by the two agencies is approximately $10 trillion. So what are you saying: that 20%+ of all US mortgages will default with a 100% loss - i.e. the mortgaged properties will never be sold? That 50% of insured US mortgages will default and result in a 50% loss in capital value?

Again, you persist in saying things are a. not true and b. that you could easily determine are not true if you spent 5 minutes checking your facts before posting.

Frankly, I resent having to do your fact-checking for you especially since I find I simply can't keep up with the rate at which you continue to make new incorrect statements.

Ian Gould said...

"Actual tax receipts have been trending upwards for a very long time. This means the government is getting larger, using our money."

Yes, that's true the US budget is far larger today than it was in the days of Washington.

I wonder why that might be? MG, could you possibly suggest some reasons for that growth other than the ravening tyrannical beast sucking Americans lifeblood?

As a percentage of GDP USD government revenue has declined over the period since 1975:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tax-Revenues-As-GDP-Percentage-%2875-05%29.JPG

That graph stops in 2005 so it omits the massive fall in revenue resulting from the GFC.

Total Federal tax receipts in non-inflation-adjusted terms peaked in 2005 and having been declining ever since. (Current indications are that fiscal 2012 receipts MAY reach 2005 levels befroe allowing for inflation. Since the economy exceeded its pre-recession output level ca. 2011, US government revenue in GDP terms probably continues to decline.

Refer to table 1.1 on page 23:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2011/assets/hist.pdf


" Actual tax rates, among the economically literate, are understood to be related in a non-linear way with tax receipts. This is the point of the Laffer curve, which is still perfectly valid. It was valid under Reagan and is valid now.'"

"Economically literate" - give me strength!

The Leffer curve is a crude and simplistic description of what actual economists refer to as taxable income elasticity.

This concept can be summarised as meaning that increasing tax rates will result in an increase in total government revenue up to an inflection point, beyond which additional increases in tax rates will result in a reduction in government revenue.

The key policy point this raises is whether a particular economy, at a given point in time, sits to the left or the right of the inflection point.

If the economy is to the right of the inflection point, increasing tax rates should result in lower government revenue and lowering tax rates should result in higher government revenue.

In the US we have a near-perfect opportunity to observe how the economy responds to changes in tax rates.

The Good Bush and Clinton increased tax rates: government revenue rose.

The Bad Bush lowered tax rates, government revenue fell.
That's the exact opposite of what those you refer to as the "economically literate" would have predicted based on the claim that the US economy was past the inflection point.

Twenty years of empirical evidence proves that you are wrong - and yet I somehow doubt that you will concede even for a moment that it's
s possible that you MIGHT be wrong.

Ian Gould said...


'I have spent thousands of hours debating, and to put it bluntly, the caliber of debate here is mediocre. I spend an hour writing a refutation using facts, and I am ignored by someone who apparently considers himself a genius."

No, you are dismissed because your claimed "facts" are false - as I've just demonstrated at length on several different points.

You spent hours on those posts? Really?

Ian Gould said...

" That is the principle reason I jumped in. Nobody who demonizes Fox in general can be taken seriously."

Funny, I feel the same way about people who confuse "principle" and "principal".

Ian Gould said...

David, your political taxonomy may well be accurate for the contemporary US but you appear to have ignored the social democratic position or conflated it with liberals.

We aren't liberals - and we also aren't leftists as you describe them.

The classic social democrat in the English-speaking world likely to be familiar to most Americans was George Orwell (although he preferred the term democratic socialist.)

And before the term "socialist" reduces MG to fury once more i'll once again paraphrase Eduard Bernstein: "Socialism is the support of policies aimed at improving the living standards of the working class and raising them up to full political equality with the rest of society."

That's a very loose paraphrase but the original is in German anyway.

Ian Gould said...

A final thought on how to refer to the current American Kulturkampf; The current unpleasantness.

rewinn said...

@Mountain Goat said...

"...As an example, Blue Cross/Blue Shield owns some 70% of the market in Alabama. State regulators keep it that way..."

@MountainGoat seems to be mistaking "legal ability to sell" with "market share". It's a puzzling error but since the example provided doesn't even address the point, who cares?

...In roughly half the States, you cannot sell health insurance directly to individuals.

Another irrelevancy. Insurers can sell their product, if they go to the bother of submitting to state regulation, and nothing @MG has linked to says otherwise. Not all insurers choose to submit themselves to regulation in every state, and that, my friend, is a form of freedom.

@Mountain Goat: do you REALLY think the federal government would be a better insurance regulator than the states? Yes or No?

"The net is that Main Street banks ... made loans they knew would not perform, then flipped them to Wall Street or Fannie Mae. They suffered no adverse consequences because they got paid up front."

Thank you for demonstrating my point. "Wall Street" is not "government" (although some days the confusion is understandable.)

You also fail to understand that many, and possibly most, of the junk mortgages were not made by banks at all. The pressures for nonbank lenders to make NINJA loans had nothing to do with government and everything to do with competition for market share in an overcaptialized market.

"....you did not understand me, and I'm not going to repeat myself..."

Oh, you are quite well understood. You are just not agreed with. The point you sought to support was "...the government interfered with the market, by providing a buyer for these loans that didn't ask any questions..." which assumes "Wall Street" is "Government".

You would benefit from reviewing a basic history of the bubble, such as This America Life's "The Giant Pool of Money". It's really worth your time!

PRO TIP: if you feel the need to boast of your mad debating skilz, you don't have them.

Jumper said...

Well, I hang around here exactly BECAUSE the discourse is a cut above the rest. I learn from Tacitus, Ian, and just about everyone else. And I'm no illiterate.

I do think the goldbugs are missing something; the government does not, and I think cannot, determine the value of a paper dollar. The market functions pretty well in that regard. Better than it does for tulip bulbs or McMansions. It works very well for potatoes, scrap steel, and plywood. A potato does not lie!

On the left and anti-progress: that's more difficult to pinpoint than simple anti-technology sentiments. The atomic bomb is one pretty obvious source of anti-technological feeling. I don't quite get it (anti-progress, i.e., pessimism of the reality of progress). I always separate moonbats from "the left," though. One thing I see is that post WWII women in this country had their progress reversed, something quite out of character for this country at least then.

On the size of government: if population increases, then to maintain the same amount of government requires it IN GENERAL to grow. Government per-capita is a more valid measure.

Jonathan S. said...

See, Mountain Goat (and I know you're still out there, reading all these), I knew I could disregard everything you said the moment you claimed that since a small amount of CO2 is necessary for respiration to take place, therefore it was safe to suck down as much of it as industry cares to produce.

By way of comparison, you need a fair amount of water to get by - more than you do CO2, certainly. Some of it even needs to be in the form of atmospheric humidity. Therefore, it should be okay for you to plunge your head into a filled bathtub and take a nice deep breath, right?

Jumper said...

Here is anti-Keynesianism: (it's practiced on the level of local governments, which had much to do with the housing bubble in the U.S.)

When the economy is relatively good, THEN spend lots of government funds for infrastructure improvements. Then, of course, bids are highest. Then, when times are bad, CUT ALL SPENDING, even for necessary infrastructure improvements. That is, when bids are historically low.

That's the basic plan.

Also, on business and employment, most businesses are not hiring because they are waiting for more people to get hired somewhere else and thus increase demand, so they can expand. It's not their fault, but that does more to explain the situation than blaming Obama and the Democrats.

Paul451 said...

Mountain Goat,
Re; Tax revenues.
"I will note as well that the highest previous receipts were in 2007, some six years after Bush implemented his tax cuts. Non-Keynesian economics, which is to say rational, historically valid economics, work. Less taxation means more growth and less cheating/tax evasion. You get a smaller piece of a bigger pool." ... "the tax cuts worked."

If Bush's tax cuts created "more growth" then doesn't that mean the economy would have grown faster under low-taxing Bush than it did under high-taxing Clinton? Or did you have some other definition of "Growth"?

Because even ignoring the GFC, during the first 7 years under Bush the US per-capita-GDP grew by around 30%. Under the last 7 years of Clinton even including the 2000-2001 recession, the per-cap-GDP grew by 35%.

Including the full 8 year terms for each administration, the per-capita-GDP grew over 40% under Clinton, and just 26% under Bush. Bush's growth rate was about 3.2% per year. Obama's has been 3.6%. Clinton's was about 5%. (GNI is even worse. Bush had effectively zero growth.)

I see nothing to suggest that the Bush tax cuts grew the economy, nor created jobs, nor increased median household wealth, nor reduced long-term unemployment, nor did anything useful.

Paul451 said...


Mountain Goat,
"I will point out as well Obama's greatly increased use of drone attacks. If Bush were doing it, the left would be screaming bloody murder. I will note as well their strange silence on the topic of Gitmo."

The left do scream bloody murder. They despise Obama's use of drones. They hate Obama for not closing Gitmo. They twist themselves in knots to justify voting for him in November. Even though they consider the opposition orders of magnitude worse, they still hate Obama for not being the guy they voted for, and it will suppress voter turn-out on the Left. (Not as bad as it did in 2010, but still enough to risk the election.)

Re: GFC & mortgages.
"If they had had to keep the loans on their books they never would have made the loans."

Yet you (and the industry) oppose Dodd-Frank which would have required at least some risk be retained by the lenders.

But how would an unregulated free mortgage & insurance market, one without the evil Fannie/Freddie, require banks to retain loans on their own books? How would it have made mortgage-backed securities correctly and transparently valued for risk?

Paul451 said...

Rob H.,

Since it is bothering you, this is the most Brin-like tribute to Neil Armstrong I've seen so far, from an Anonymous commenter on Parabolic Arc:

To all my young friends:

(And by "young" I mean anyone younger than about 47 or so.)

I don't envy you. Some days I do, days when I wake up with arthritic pain in my right hip, or see more salt than pepper in the mirror's beard and more forehead than the day before, or hobble from gout in my big toe (gout, wtf!).

But most days, when I ponder life, the universe, and everything, which is often, I don't envy you. I feel sorry for you, and all who will come after. I, and those my age, by luck of some cosmic lottery, have had the unique fortune of witnessing the most historic event since some adventurous fish climbed onto a shore and said, Hey, there's cool stuff up here! If only I could breathe and walk! (Ok, anthropomorphising a billion years of evolution, but you get the picture.)

You were too young to remember, or not even born yet, when I saw Neil, on grainy black & white tv, carefully descend the LEM steps to the surface of the moon. THE FUCKING MOON! I don't envy you, indeed I am sorry that you were born too late. You will never, ever experience anything as profound and momentous. Sure, there will be cool stuff you'll see, maybe even participate in, maybe landing on Mars or even exosolar planets. I hope so. I hope and plan to witness and participate myself.

I never met Neil Armstrong, but I did meet a friend of his, a "Buzz" Aldrin, but that's another (actually several) story(s). And it turned out that, much to my surprise, though he walked on the moon with Neil, we had something in common. He was a human being, too. So today, I was shocked at my own shock. Neil WALKED ON THE FUCKING MOON! I saw it! How could he do that and then just die, like a regular human being? The cognitive dissonance is numbing.

And so, though I don't envy you, I do encourage you. Go forth and stand on the shoulders of giants. Use the foundation they've laid to see further and go farther than anyone before. Make Neil and the 100,000 other Apollo project members proud. Make the human race proud. Make that fish proud. Build on that legacy. Go.

David Brin said...

Paul 451 do you have a link to that awesome tribute to Neil Armstrong?


======

Sorry Arka, but you are an idiot. That's ad hominem, I know. Sorry. but really, I have no further words for you.

The fraction of children dying of such diseases is declining at exactly the same rate that violence has been declining. The fraction of families with electricity, flush toilets, sanitation, kids in school, potable water and hope has been climbing steadily for years... yet you actually actually actually try to suggest the opposite, just so you can make a Foxlike counterfactual lie-point.

Just like the Fox-zoids, to your assertions and sanctimony trump any thought of actually checking facts. Yes, the millions who DO suffer those diseases and the remaining horrific violence merit our sympathy and vigorous support. You have done less than I have (I bet) to make that happen and to push further progress. Indeed, your lefty pessimism hurts the cause. You... are... not... helping... them.

Since you refuse to engage us fairly, or to finish the paraphrase challenge, or to examine even for a moment the "I refuse to admit there's been any progress" mania of the left, I am simply finding you boring.

David Brin said...

Mountain Goat, you are just as crazy on the right as Akra is on the left. You declaim counter-facts with blithe assuredness that is simply astonishing. But it is flat out nonsense.

Tax rates are at near their lowest levels in 70 years. That is a flat-out fact. It is a fact fact fact and no armwaving you do can even remotely make actual real facts go away.

Supply siders have said repeatedly that lowering taxes on the wealthy would result in investment in plants and equipment and productivity that would result in increased tax revenues and thus lower public debt. NOT ONE OF THESE THINGS EVER EVER EVER EVEN REMOTELY CAME CLOSE TO HAPPENING. The rich, especially, do not invest tax largesse in plants and equipment and productive assets. They... do.... not.

You appeal to nonexistent facts. You appeal to authority. You make grand declarations about your superiority as a debater... all of which are cheap tricks of high school freshmen and I tell you now, you are a very bad debater.

I CHALLENGE YOU AGAIN with money behind it. If you cannot come up with one counter-example to my broad accusations, then you leave those accusations on the table as the assumed leading hypotheses.

I have defined terms perfectly well. I have asked you to name ONE clade of intellect not under attack by Fox. ONE unambiguous metric of national health that improved under Republican rule. Name one. Name it now.

Start with Clinton's surpluses and debt payback. Now subtract the iraq and Afghanistan wars and Bush's tax cuts. That leads directly to precisely the debt you are now screaming about. Show us how the math comes out any different in your world. Show us.

Show us now. I offer you $100 to show us. Do the math. (I can. I have. You'd lose.

This is 100% a GOP deficit.)

David Brin said...

OOps I left out the totally unfunded bribe called the Prescription Drug entitlement or Medicare Part D. Entirely passed by Republican Congress and President. The most un-funded entitlement in the history of the republic! (Social Security has paid for itself every year since FDR.)

It is positively Orwellian how opposite to fact these guys are! In entirely conservative terms, today's GOP is utterly monstrous. Vast quagmire foreign wars, unfunded entitlements and gifts to competition-destroying monopolists, while driving the economy off a cliff.

Barry Goldwater denounced the thing the Elephant was becoming, just before he died. Any sane conservative would help put it out of its misery.

David Brin said...


Kieran, thank heavens for you! Your four categories exist, but I think you leave out the politically motivated grouches. The Rightists who hate the push for human improvability and progress and the leftists who want it, but deny any has yet happened.

Ian Gould said...

In true Contrary-Brin style: using existing technology, and a minimal additional construction cost, it should be possible to build coal-fired plants that capture about 90% of Carbon Dioxide emissions and most other air pollutants using cryogenic technology.

While operating costs would be higher, savings in health costs and other avoided pollution costs (e.g. from acid rain) would provide lower total social costs).

Importantly, the savings from reductions in pollutants other than Carbon Dioxide should cover the whole additional cost - meaning the Carbon sequestration is essentially a bonus.

See David's regular invocation of Things We Ought to Do Anyway.

Now this is all spreadsheet hypotheticals currently - but this is the sort of project which governments and corporations should be treating as a Manhattan Project/Apollo Program level priority.

http://phys.org/news/2012-08-cooled-coal-emissions-air-health.html

Rob said...

We do not demonize Fox News in general. We can point to specific, weekly, almost daily evidence that their editorial stance is positively and intentionally designed to enrage you against, perhaps, the factions the owners of Fox oppose, but that is secondary to keeping you enraged.

Enraged keeps you watching, you see. It's yellow journalism as pernicious as anything Hearst did with his New York Journal.

Paul451 said...

Link to the Armstrong tribute:

http://www.parabolicarc.com/2012/08/25/neil-armstrong/comment-page-1/#comment-47001

Rob said...

Has anyone been watching Aaron Sorkin's latest offering, Newsroom?

I watched the first two episodes. The first one was classic Sorkin, and inspired me to write the best. academic. essay I've ever written on any topic. The second one was good TV but not nearly as mind-bending.

Paul451 said...

David,
"but you are an idiot. That's ad hominem"

Pedantically, it's not. It's insulting, but it's not a logical fallacy to judge someone a fool on the basis of their foolish arguments. Ad hom requires that you judge their arguments foolish on the basis that they are fools. (Illogical because even a fool can have a non-foolish argument.)

(oponsue: Copyleft lawsuits.)

sociotard said...

It seems as if David may have been off on his "rise of 10,000 McVeighs" by a presidential term.

US soldiers arrested for murder, planned terror plot & assassinating the President

Get a look at their alleged ringleader:
On the right is Isaac Aguigui as a page at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. On the left is the same guy as of his arrest.

sociotard said...

Also, if I make make a plead for sanity, the arguments vis a vis carbon dioxide being good for you or being deadly are way off the mark. The debate is not whether CO2 will rise to deadly concentrations ala Apollo 13. The debate is whether the increase in CO2 from 200 to over 600 ppm (or, if you prefer, from 0.02% to 0.06%) is caused principally by people, and whether that will change the climate.

David Brin said...

They were in the 3rd Infantry. The meanest, toughest and craziest outfit in the US Army. You want to plow through five Iraqi Republican Guard divisions in ten sleepless days and nights, send in the 3rd.

Anybody from the 3rd even looks at your daughter...

... pack up the family and move.

David Brin said...

Recall I wrote about Somaliland four years ago. Attempts to fix somalia should have started here:

http://www.npr.org/2012/08/28/160117706/somaliland-a-pocket-of-stability-in-a-chaotic-region?ft=1&f=1001

High Arka said...

Okay, okay, taking it outside!

Next caller, you're on the Sean Hannity show.

Ian Gould said...

Oh, look: for anyone doubting High Arka's sanity, he's gone and removed any possible doubt.

http://higharka.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/survivors-of-ioz.html

Apparently the Aurora shootings were all part of an elaborate scheme to Keep Whitie down.

Jumper said...

Forbes on Ron Paul and fractional lending:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/johntamny/2012/07/29/ron-paul-fractional-reserve-banking-and-the-money-multiplier-myth/

Ian said...

Jumper, Ron Paul's economic theories are the equivalent of creationism.

But you go on supporting his attempts to count the gold in Fort Knox to check that the Jews haven't stolen it all yet.

Ian said...

The very inappropriately-named American Thinker presents a right-wing version of progress-denialism and doomsaying.

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2012/08/retreat_to_the_past.html

Tacitus2 said...

You are all getting a bit to lathered up.

For a brief diversion...

hmmm...let's see now. Set phasers to Snark. Energize Colbertronic Reactor. Disengage safetys...

that should do it..

Tacitus2 said...

The Conservative case for re-electing President Obama

Fellow Conservatives. I would not presume to tell you how to vote. We are united in our desire to see America rise to new levels of greatness. But we hold diverse views as to how to attain this. Unlike many of our Progressive fellow citizens we can rationally discuss our differences and look at all options.

So I propose a theory. The re-election of Barack Obama might be for the best.

I mean, we are not Italy*. Continuity of a stable government over long stretches of time gives comfort to those around the world who depend on our strength. And it gives pause for thought to those who would test it.

The real America is defined not by a rock star in the White House but by the soldier who guards us, by the average citizen trying to do good in their own community. Yes, even by the scold who nags us to do better still. These foundation stones run very deep, and will not be shifted by another four years of Obama as President.

Because Barack Obama never really set out to be elected President, and probably does not to this day believe that he is the Leader of the Free World. No, in his heart-felt but seldom uttered desire to have us be more like Europe he probably wanted to be President in the European sense, a revered but mostly ceremonial figurehead who recognizes that real power is in the hands of the Premier….or resides in Brussels.

And as a noble figurehead he is most serviceable.

Yes, we all worry about some mishap that could give us President Joseph Biden. It would be a great comfort in some ways if the Hillary for VP talk was more than vapors rising from Foggy Bottom. And, yes, taken to logical conclusions Obama would lead us to government “by, for, and of” DMV clerks. But there is new strength rising in the states-even a few Democrats are becoming vertebrate-that will forestall that foolish vision.

A Romney victory and a divided nation will be four more years of stagnation in our national life. So perhaps, just perhaps we should work hard for solid and sustainable gains in Congress and in state capitols. Then in four years, when the contrasts become so stark that none can remain under any spell or illusion, Mitt Romney’s words will become true and Paul Ryan will be the next President of the United States.
------
*speaking of Italy, in some ways they are more restrained in tossing out rascals. Would that you had listened when I said impeaching Clinton was folly. Why that Berlusconi fellow makes Bill look like a monk! Does he even have zippers tailored into his pants? Since the Lewinsky fiasco Republican (which is not exactly Conservative) presidential politics have looked bush league.

Tacitus2 said...

A Liberal Case for the Re-election of President Obama

OK, people we all remember just how awesome and empowering it was when we elected Barack Obama! It just showed the world that we had set aside old prejudices and old thinking, and that we were going to move forward to great things.

Now we have to do it all again.

I can’t promise you that re-electing Barack will be twice as awesome. In fact some of us feel that his re-election is necessary mostly to prove that we did not make a mistake last time, that he was not some kind of odd historical fluke.

And yes, I know many of you are disappointed with him in various ways. Sure, he has continued many of the policies of his icky predecessor, that guy we don’t talk about. But because we are just among friends here, some of those policies have been Barack’s biggest wins, and, well, you-know-who was really never quite as awful as we all said he was.

Also, you are disappointed that the fabulous vision that Barack created for us, or perhaps we for him, has not come to pass. Well what did you expect? Even a President has limits on what he can do. And for those of you still nursing that grudge, even on what she could do.

Naturally we have to say loud and clear that a President Romney would have almost total Evil Super Powers to do whatever he wanted to do. I know, this makes my head hurt too but it must be said. Be careful not to imply that Barack is a wimp or anything like that.

But honestly now, so much of the work we see done around us is done by a bunch of grown ups who hardly even care who the President is! True! The bus drivers and cafeteria workers and janitors do things their own way even when someone new is President! When Barack was talking about boring infrastructure and stuff and said “You didn’t build that” he was really talking to us..and to himself!

So even though it is less fun this time around, get out there and work hard to make sure Barack gets re-elected. He would be so crushed and sad if he got rejected for the first time in his life. It’s OK to mention that Romney is a weird Mormon…don’t they wear that funny underwear? Oooh, locker room….Awk-Ward!

Better not mention Paul Ryan. He is actually fairly cool. And we all know our slogan:

“Barack Obama for Student Council President---All the Cool People vote for him!”

Jumper said...

I was wondering, Ian, if you misunderstood my link to Forbes: my objection to goldbugs is precisely what the article mentions; the objection to fractional lending IN ITSELF is likely a logical result of anti-regulatory sentiment, in that the very existence of fractional lending DEMANDS regulation or else all banking would be in a sense a Ponzi scheme and a fraud.

It sounds as if you thought I was defending Paul's position; when I was doing the opposite.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Supply siders have said repeatedly that lowering taxes on the wealthy would result in investment in plants and equipment and productivity that would result in increased tax revenues and thus lower public debt. NOT ONE OF THESE THINGS EVER EVER EVER EVEN REMOTELY CAME CLOSE TO HAPPENING. The rich, especially, do not invest tax largesse in plants and equipment and productive assets. They... do.... not.


The reason is self-evident. The goal of investment is to (eventually) turn a profit. If one can get that profit WITHOUT bothering to invest, then why WOULD one bother?

Right-wingers certainly understand the dynamic. They argue it themselves when they argue that welfare encourages people not to bother working.

LarryHart said...

Rob:

We can point to specific, weekly, almost daily evidence that their editorial stance is positively and intentionally designed to enrage you against, perhaps, the factions the owners of Fox oppose, but that is secondary to keeping you enraged.


My brother pointed that out to me years ago--that irrespective of their politics, FOX reporting is all about making a crisis out of everything. He described a routine story about a train derailment in Nebraska being turned into a big fear-mongering story about "What if the train was carrying dangerous chemicals?" And then "Isn't it suspicious that they're NOT evacuating the town?" "What are they NOT telling us?"

That's the main reason I don't watch FOX ever. I can take opposing viewpoints--in fact I seek them out in newspapers. But that constant level of anxiety? Life's too short.

Robert said...

Thank you, Tacitus2. Just to let you know, when I was reading those, I was hearing them in my mind's ear in the voice of Stephen Colbert. ^^

Rob H.

next door Laura said...

Robert
You are welcome, and that was the intended tone. Although like Colbert and Stewart, there was a point behind the jibes.
Regards Fox, which I rarely find worth noting at all, one curious point.
Their public opinion polls all seem totally honest, or in fact to skew Democratic a bit. Not enough to be used as scare fodder though.
Weird. Must be a different part of the organization.
Tacitus

David Brin said...

Tacitus, hilarious! Well-done.

Of course the REAL reason for an uplifted ostrich to support Obama... and almost all democratic candidates (except for a few where the libertarian might make a good showing)... is simpler.

A trounced GOP would re-evaluate. Chastened, it might even turn to the adults in conservatism.

Like Tacitus

David Brin said...

onward

Paul451 said...

Tacitus2,
"there was a point behind the jibes."

It's interesting that you see liberals as infantile. Or at least overwrought 13 year old girls.

And speaking of overwrought 13yr old girls...

High Arka,
How exactly have you been "banhammered" from here, as you claim in your blog?

High Arka said...

Well, let's see! Dr. Brin, comes now an outcast leper for your wisdom. What makes the two situations this one presented above different from one another?

Jonathan S. said...

Didn't you say you were "banhammered"? Or does that mean something different on your planet?

High Arka said...

Pleasantly surprised to still be here! Let's call it a technical error.

In other news, somewhere amidst the personal insults and all-caps screaming about questions High Arka can't answer, is there anyone who'd like to discuss what David was afraid to, e.g., whether Pinker's research methodology was appropriate?

High Arka said...

Here's a thorough response that covers everything we've discussed here, and addressed more of David's concerns:

Sanitized Conclusions.

Mountain Goat said...

Mr. Brin,

Fair enough. Will not be difficult. I'll do it on my blog, though, then repost it here. I have about as much faith in you admitting you're wrong as James Randi, but it was a post I was planning to make anyway.

You don't do homework--you have not cited one verifiable fact that I can see--but I do. That is the difference between us, and I will, AGAIN, demonstrate it.

Give me a few hours, possibly tomorrow. The only reason I came back is I actually got the chance to visit a Lincoln-Douglas debate site the other day--Knox College in Galesburg, IL, and remembered how much it pisses me off when pedantic, self important morons presume to criticize ideas which are so self evident that they can only be opposed through non sequitur and ad hominem.

Mountain Goat said...

Actually, in a proper debate--you know, like Stephan Douglas and Lincoln engaged in--it is both possible and desirable to define in short terms the contention in play.

In Lincoln and Douglas case, the question was whether or not new--not existing--States should be able to decide for themselves as to whether or not to allow slavery, or whether slavery was so intrinsically wrong that it should be banned at a Federal level.

Here, I would like you to demonstrate sincerity by stating your contentions in short form.

Here are some examples:

1. Tax cuts upon higher income earners have either no effect on national tax receipts, or actually diminish them.

2. Democrats bear NO responsibility whatever for ANY of the national debt resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from their initiation to the present state of affairs.

Etc. I did not read through that frothing mess very carefully, but will whenever I allocate the time to. You no doubt are serious about demonstrating your superior grasp of the issues at hand, the foundational ignorance of EVERYTHING on Fox (who, in marked contradistinction with ALL other networks, use fear mongering, and tend to focus on negatives), and my fundamentally malignant nature, so I presume you will be EAGER to define your core arguments in clear fashion, knowing full well I will be as helpless as a one day old baby. It will be easy to mock me. Why not make it obvious how much better you are?

I'll assume in advance, sarcasm aside, that you will ignore me, as it appears you have avoided my repeated call to define "progress" (I have not read the whole thread: if you did respond substantively, please do so again; all you need to do is cut and paste your exemplary use of erudition and clarity of thought).

Mountain Goat said...

Well, almost ten hours later, so I'll have to assume this is a one man show.

Here are the claims I will be addressing:

1. That tax rates are at historic lows.

2. That decreases in relative tax rates for the upper income brackets do not generate increases in GDP and following increases in tax revenue.

3. That the claim that decreases in tax rates can generate increases in tax receipts is on the face of it farcical, and that the historical record plainly does not support it.

4. That the entirety of the national debt increase since 2001 can be attributed to Bush's tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, none of which had the support of the Democrat Party.

With regard to Fox, your claims are so general as to be impossible to address, so I will take as a random sample this story from the Fox News website. Since you have spoken of Fox in general--and refused repeatedly to offer examples--then logically I must assume that on your account ALL content on Fox applies:

5. This story constitutes an assault on the intellect:
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/01/ice-chief-staff-resigns-after-allegations-lewd-conduct/

With regard to national health, I will state your claim as:

6. It is the duty and purpose for the Federal Government to improve the health of the nation, and in the period 2001-2007 Republicans failed to do so. By extension, with regard to whatever metric of health we use, things will have been much better under Democrats. The only available recent periods are 1976-1980, 1992-1994, and 2008-2010 (actually, add one year to each). Since it is more germane, I will look at 2008-2010, and look at rates of obesity. According to your argument, we will of course have seen declines in that period.

7. That offering nothing in terms of definitions constitutes a definition of progress.

8. That Medicare Part D is the most unfunded mandate in American history.

9. That social security has "paid for itself" since its inception.

Did I miss anything? We may as well make the list as comprehensive as possible. You want that, don't you? Remember: you're right, and I'm wrong, so you may as well pile it on.






«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 220   Newer› Newest»