Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Super hurricanes and solar storms and EMP… lessons about resilient tech (Part I)

We’ll get to the solar storm alert and its implications, in a minute. But first… the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey tears open our hearts in empathy for our fellow humans and citizens in Texas. (See a list of ways you can help.)

It also forces us to think about bigger scales – like what will it take for civilization to endure and thrive, amid an onrushing future filled with shocks? Harvey is, after all, the third “500 year event” to strike Texas in the last three years, and the tenth in a decade. Confronted with this “coincidence,” the state’s director of emergency planning – a confirmed climate denialist – snarked that “anyone can toss ten heads in a row.

Sure, but I invite you to go without eating till you manage it. Better yet, go win ten 1:500 quick-pick tickets in a row. Do that and someone’s gonna check into your cousin working at the Lottery. (See an earlier posting of a chapter from my 1989 novel EARTH, portraying a future (2038) Houston persevering after hurricane flooding.) 

Of course climate change doesn’t explain everything.  It blatantly increases the frequency and severity of bad news – like Hurricane Irma, a category 5 and bearing down on Florida, just a week after Harvey. (Irma is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, and two more storms are forming, as we speak.) But some nasty events were going to happen, anyway.  

Separately, the topic that should be foremost is getting ready for when – inevitably – the sky will fall or the earth will shift, beneath our feet.

California's past and coming superstorm: This article reminds us, for example, of great floods that struck California in 1862, swamping the entire Central Valley and crushing towns all across the west.  Nor was this the worst that nature can bring. “Scientists looking at the thickness of sediment layers collected offshore in the Santa Barbara and San Francisco Bay areas have found geologic evidence of megastorms that occurred in the years 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, and 1605, coinciding with climatological events that were happening elsewhere in the world.”

The core issue is: shouldn’t we be preparing better? Especially since climate change is actually real?

== Cyclones only begin our list of perils ==

Likewise, we’ve had other natural catastrophes on our minds -- and variable levels of sagacious preparation. Does it surprise you that, in what can safely be called opposite-to-wise governance, the Trump Administration has been yanking support from both earthquake and tsunami-warning systems?

Few prophesied dangers raise hand-wringing as much as civilization-wide disruption by an Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP. After all, what do you figure Kim Jong Un imagines he might accomplish with the one or two bombs he might get through to North America? Even landing one amid a city would be little more than another disaster to overcome, with a resilient and mighty nation swooping in to help the afflicted, rebuilding and mourning with one hand… while stomping him flat with the other. Kim knows this…

…but he might convince himself that one nuke exploded high over our continent could neutralize all our satellites and throw America back to a pre-electronics stone age. 

(In which case, we should ask ourselves: “which power would benefit most from a no-America vacuum? And might this explain why Pyongyang’s technicians have grown so ‘capable,’ all of a sudden?” I know one sentence that could - possibly - get that major power to back down.)

Okay, set aside the threat that a single, North Korean nuke might cause, popping an EMP over North America. What about natural versions of the same calamity, courtesy of our sun? Speaking to you as the discoverer of the Great Solar Flare of 1972 – (I was the duty observer at the Big Bear Observatory that summer, when it burst) – let me tell you them things can be fierce! The resulting Coronal Mass Ejection can be rough, especially when a CME happens to flow right at our planet. As seems likely this week, according to NOAA!

The effects can be beautiful, when our protective magnetosphere channels solar particles from a small-to-moderate CME away from temperate climes and toward the magnetic poles, charging atmospheric gases to glow in gaudy aurorae. (Any high-rollers out there; I’ll be guiding an arctic aurora expedition, next March.) And to be clear so there’s no cause for immediate panic; this week’s event isn’t likely to do much more than make a show for people north of Chicago. But when a big CME strikes us head-on, the effects can be much more serious.

We’ve has ‘sunspot’ disruptions of our communications within living memory, but nothing like the Carrington Event of 1859, that fried telegraph systems around the world. And tree ring analysis suggests that another solar event may have made the 1859 one look tame by comparison, several thousand years before written records. Almost annually, for decades, I have urged various defense agencies to pay more attention to our civilization’s vulnerability to a deliberate or natural EMP.

EMP/CME impact on our electricity grid has long been foreseen - and more of a risk than nuclear war or an asteroid strike. See James Cameron’s Dark Angel post EMP apocalypse TV show. Now The Economist is highlighting it. My own tech sense is that a higher fraction of our tools would survive or reboot. But we’re fools not to be spending 20x as much on this. 

Without any doubt, human activity – e.g. climate change or enemy action -- is making our dangers far more serious. But even without deliberate meddling, this kind of thing is going to happen! We’d best spend time, energy and money making sure that we’re robust.  

Hence, I urge you all, as individuals to give some thought to your family’s emergency plans and supplies.  And look into getting trained for CERT – your local Community Emergency Response Team – which does civil defense prep in your area.

And reiterating -- for decades I have hectored (by invitation) members of our Protector Caste at the Pentagon, CIA, OSTP, ODNI, DTRA and many other alphabet agencies, that they cannot carry this burden alone.

As revealed by the heroic neighborliness of the “Cajun Navy,” it’s clear that the Cincinnatus tradition of America can still rely on a resilient citizenry! In fact, on 9/11, every single good and useful thing that was accomplished that day – including fighting back against the hijackers of flight UA93 – was done by average folks, empowered by … cell phones.  (See Rebeccas Solnit’s book: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster.) 

So that’s what I'll talk about next, in Part 2.


LarryHart said...

donzelion in the previous thread:

"So the question is...who or what benefits evolutionarily from an external influence that makes humans stupid? Therein might be a clue."

Maybe it's the cats, secretly in control, selecting our breeding preferences on our behalf?

That's actually a scary thought, considering how important my then-girlfriend's cat's approval was when we began dating. At first, the cat was jealous for her attention, but once I started feeding him, I was golden. I swear he "told" her to keep me around.

Maybe neanderthals lacked a 'cat affinity gene,' so cats selectively bred them out of existence?

Another scary thought. The cats doing it on purpose is humorous fantasy, but could such a mechanism work behind the scenes unconsciously? I'm not sure I don't believe it.

Paul SB said...

I'm a wee bit late jumping in here, but also in the last post Donzelion wrote:

"The grave dangers always come from systems, often good and useful in one context, co-opted or corrupted by monsters, be they cancerous cells or political orders. Fear never protects as effectively as diligent scrutiny and disciplined curiosity."

This reminded me of a quote from Joan Vinge, in her prize-winning novel "The Snow Queen."

"Indifference is the strongest force in the universe. It makes everything it touches meaningless. Love and hate don’t stand a chance against it. It lets neglect and decay and monstrous injustice go unchecked. It doesn’t act, it allows. And that’s what gives it so much power."

I think it was Steve who, a couple threads back, was talking about the need to play whack-a-mole with corporations gone bad. Lassez-faire Capitalism is exactly that - indifference to human need and the needs of human society. It's ironic that people who want to claim that Capitalism is our Godsend so often couch that in Darwinian terms, when Darwin was in no way enamored of the workings of indifferent nature.

"What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature!"

Our climate deniers endanger us all with their "small government" cult. They want government to be weak so their business interests can get that lasses-faire advantage of being able to be as brutal as they like without fear of interference of any kind. But society today is so dependent on our technology that their dangerous cult is not only capable of grinding much of the species under their CEO heels, but leaving us vulnerable to a wide range of failure modes. When I read the bit about EMP I thought, there are so many other issues that the denialist cult is leaving the species vulnerable to, evolving pathogens being one of the top concerns. Oh, but they deny evolution, too.

I'll end this with another favorite quote:

All business sagacity reduces itself in the last analysis to judicious use of sabotage.
- Thorstein Veblen

donzelion said...

"The core issue is: shouldn’t we be preparing better [for major disasters]? Especially since climate change is actually real?"

Maybe...with an unlimited number of grave potential threats to prepare for, selecting which, if any to attend to is no simple feat.

We should have people monitoring, analyzing, and studying these things - and doing so for the public interest. I note that NOAA (one of the Department of Commerce sites that is currently threatened by Trump) is the federal agency monitoring the solar emissions. Perhaps Part 2 of Dr. Brin's post will address their precise dilemmas...

What happens when there is no such monitoring in the public interest? Private interests do so, and not out of generosity. Reaping profits off of misery is all-too-prevalent during every major disaster. Low-level gouging (ice blocks marked up from $5 to $150, etc.) is one thing; the bigger gouging will be insurers playing with their billions, paying out to 'preferred' customers (who can sue them to collect if they don't) while making others wait in line (sometimes...indefinitely).

I buy a property for $100 million, ensure at a price of $2 million/year (2% of it's value) - suffer a total loss on the property - I recover it's full value (even if it's actual market value at time of destruction is only $50m). You wreck your car, worth $15,000, and even if you insure at 10% of it's value ($1,000/year - hardly uncommon in much of the country), you'll probably receive a far lower 'equivalent value.' Don't like it? Sue the insurer (at a cost of $250/hr+...good luck). Ultimately, through the magic of reinsurance, the property owners paying 10% subsidize the property owners paying 2%.

And folks wonder why there are so many 'real estate' billionaires in America...

Ioan said...

I know it's early and they haven't found all the bodies yet. However, I must note that Houston has shown itself to be pretty resilient.

Hurricane Ike: 211 people (I assume the missing are dead)
Hurricane Sandy: 233 people
Hurricane Harvey: 70 (so far)

If Hurricane Harvey fatalities are in the same ballpark as the other two storms, then I'd say Houston has been pretty resilient. Especially since it was a worse storm than Hurricane Ike and Houston is far more vulnerable than metro New York. It would be nice for resiliency to mean fewer than 100 fatalities, but I don't think that's realistic in today's political climate.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: My brother, our thought patterns are twined and twins today, are they not? But I'll contradict myself a little -

"Lassez-faire Capitalism is exactly that - indifference to human need and the needs of human society."

It doesn't HAVE to be - but incentives certainly make it highly probable that most players in the game of capital will seek opportunities to profit off misery, or happiness, or any other phenomenon. Yet at the same time, I read about Microsoft, Apple, and so many other firms stepping up to take on Trump re DACA - and yes, they have a profit incentive at work, but dangit, they are doing the right thing by their employees (and often, they could just as easily let them be deported and work with them in other countries for even lower pay).

"Our climate deniers endanger us all with their "small government" cult."
They do, but the reason they're so enduring is because a handful of them know full well how much money they can make off of horrific outcomes. Their reasoning follows 19th century capitalist notions - who cares about a famine in Ireland or India if the price of cloth or tea moves the way the trader gambled?

"their dangerous cult is not only capable of grinding much of the species under their CEO heels, but leaving us vulnerable to a wide range of failure modes."
The CEO's (esp. Apple, Microsoft, and many others) tend to be more 'stewards' than 'barons.' Rich enough to buy the plane they fly out when summoned by a baron, but not so rich that they can ignore the call when it comes. Veblen distinguished 'industry' (the act of producing anything) from 'business' (the operational/sales aspects of the firm), a distinction few make today, but one that may merit further consideration by our more economically inclined analysts (for me, today, I'm just bothered by who shifts costs onto whom - the specific form of 'judicious sabotage' most frequently employed).

donzelion said...

Loan, re Sandy v. Harvey - bear in mind Sandy started in Jamaica, where most of those deaths occurred. The National Hurricane Center put the deaths for Sandy at 72 in America. Hopefully, Harvey will come under that number...

"If Hurricane Harvey fatalities are in the same ballpark as the other two storms, then I'd say Houston has been pretty resilient."

I would say both New York and Houston are more resilient than Jamaica. The best example though would be to look to South Asia for comparison - Bangladesh may be facing massive starvation in months to come, with thousands dead, millions of homes damaged, and untold acreage of rice crops destroyed. I've known some exceptionally tough Bangladeshis who endured hardships and persecutions that would make Republican cowboys whining about 'blue state oppressors' weep with fury - but ours is surely a more resilient country not just because we are tough, or blessed, but also because we built ourselves this way.

Zepp Jamieson said...

In my universe, a Flare devastates much of human civilisation in the middle of the 22nd century. Not only is there massive dislocation as much electronic tech is ruined, but in the West, people wearing cyber implants are either killed outright or suffer hideous wounds and disabilitites. Two hundred years later, there's lurid tales of AIs going berserk and killing millions, although in reality they simply either stopped working, or suffered more pedestrian malfunction. None the less, between the real, widespread damage, and the imaginary, but lurid stories, cybertech is banned, as is AI.
The real deleterious effects stemmed from the Vast Depression that followed. As a result, it took humanity nearly a century to recover.
In my storyline, it's more or less incidental, a monumental event 200 years past that shaped the mores and attitudes of the culture my characters live in.

LarryHart said...

I don't get it.

Trump Bypasses Republicans to Strike Deal on Debt Limit and Harvey Aid

First of all, is this one of the judo moves Dr Brin has been asking for from Democrats?

But what good does it do for Trump to make a deal with Democrats when he'll need Republican majorities to pass anything?

And what is Chuck Schumer angling for? He usually knows what he's doing, so I assume there is a benefit to insisting the budget deal and debt-ceiling increase will need to be dealt with again in three months, but I'm not clear what that benefit is.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | Lassez-faire Capitalism is exactly that - indifference to human need and the needs of human society. It's ironic that people who want to claim that Capitalism is our Godsend so often couch that in Darwinian terms, when Darwin was in no way enamored of the workings of indifferent nature.

You knew I’d want to chime in on this, right? 8)

Indifference has a lot of power, but that’s not what many of us who prefer lassez-faire capitalism are doing. We aren’t remotely indifferent. We are VERY concerned that those of you who see evils in need of vanquishing are making things worse. It isn’t about ‘let them do whatever they want’. It is about ‘let them be’. The first tolerates immoral behavior. The second need not and that’s what many of us actually do. Are we battling dragons every day? No. Sometimes? Yes. Little dragons most of the time. Maybe some cockroaches because they are easily squished.

The capitalism behaviors that most of us practice when we let others be are map-able to a virtue ethics system that looks like a partially re-worked version of Aristotle’s original virtues and Aquinas’ extension. One doesn’t have to go that far back to find it, though. Adam Smith described the classical part of it in his ‘moral sentiments’ book and focused on prudence in the ‘wealth of nations’ book. McCloskey tackled the whole system a few years ago connecting it to antiquity and some modern economic history.

The reason Darwin comes up all the time is we recognize the emergent orders in our markets as species in complex ecosystems. Evolution theory predates Darwin if you care to look into early economics ideas. It’s not by much, but there is good reason to believe Darwin carried the idea over. Emergent order is the profoundly important middle concept between ‘that which is designed by intellect’ and ‘that which appears to be ordered but isn’t designed by anyone’. It fills the gap as ‘that which is the result of the actions of intellects, but not the design of intellects.’

I’ll join you in being upset at the indifferent, but don’t expect me to ask of people that they remain so vigilant that they exhaust themselves. I’m in the part of Sapolsky’s book where he talks about cognitive load on the frontal cortex. We have to be reasonable and ask of humans only what is humanly possible. Choose the dragons we will face together, but let individuals deal with the cockroaches as they may.

(btw… I LIKE Sapolsky’s humor. Thank you for recommending the book.)

Tony Fisk said...

My understanding (via NS or SA) is that the main concern of a big CME is not EMP frying circuits, but the havoc it would wreak on grid transformers. These normally robust items seldom need replacing under normal circumstances, and so there are few spares available. In those circumstances, the electrical grid of half the globe could go down, and stay down for a year or more.

re: evolution and eceonomics. Like relativity, several people were investigating the same lines of enquiry. It was an idea whose time had come; waiting the right spark of insight. Reading of Huxley's admiring frustration at not having grasped the concept before caused me to coin the following:

It takes genius to state the bleeding obvious before anyone else.

By the way, I recommend New Scientist's article on Mary Somerville, celebrating her recent inclusion on the Scottish 10 pound note.

Twominds said...


The cats doing it on purpose is humorous fantasy, but could such a mechanism work behind the scenes unconsciously? I'm not sure I don't believe it.

Well, the founder of a major religion loved cats and condemned dogs as unclean.
what a victory for the felines!

Tony Fisk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

Dirt cheap energy storage?

Could use this in the heat-treating biz, at least.

Greg Hullender said...

So how do we sign up for the Aurora tour? There's no link!

Paul SB said...


It's true that lassez-faire doesn't have to be about indifference, but it has worked out that way for the majority of people. I managed to find some old notes from when I was in college, which reminded me of something important I had forgotten. Anthropologists approach economy from a bottom-up perspective, starting with the level of bare subsistence and adding on layers as societies get larger and more complex. For most of human existence it wasn't paycheck to paycheck it was hunt to hunt, or more significantly it was browse to browse (since plants comprised at least 75% of our h/g ancestors' diets, and more typically 85-90%). The more crowded the world gets, the more complicated the economics get, the further removed most people are from the system. When people can't comprehend something, they tend to become indifferent to it. Look at voter turn-outs. Are all those people who stay home, knowing full well that the people who get into power will have big impacts on their own ability to survive in our highly twisted economy just a bunch of bums? I think not. Or as old Charlie Oppenheimer once said, "People would't be indifferent if they weren't lied to all the time." When the system is so complex, it's easy for demagogues to prevaricate prodigiously.

So what we have here is a statistical probability. Chances are, a majority of people will not care enough to slide their butts off the couch and take any kind of action whatsoever. That leaves the people who have both the greatest interest and the greatest power to manipulate the system in their own favor occupying most of the field. Where I Differ most vehemently with Alfred is that he constantly warns us to not go too far with regulating those most powerful people, as if this were ever a problem, except in their own propaganda. Any attempt to keep them from squeezing the peasants to early graves is a "job killer." We all know this is bullshit. The rich stopped creating jobs a long time ago. They purchase luxury items for their own Veblenite pursuits, which generates some employment, but the vast majority of their wealth goes to off-shore bank sinks where it sits doing very little for the economy as a whole, though those .001%ers can still boast to each other of how rich they are. If that money were more evenly spread out it would not only alleviate huge amounts of human suffering, it would also greatly improve the economy itself, becoming a high-velocity, positive-sum boon to humanity.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion, con’t,

The danger is not in going too far with regulating the bastards at the top, the danger is the other way around. They are the ones who have inordinate power, not the average Joe/Josephine. They have little incentive to behave like human beings. Yes, there are a few, mostly in Silicon Valley, who have not lost their humanity. Paul Zak’s book “Trust Factor” gives a number of examples of big businesses that are actually thriving by treating employees and customers like human beings, but these are the exceptions, not the rule. The rule is still crass, asinine treatment of underlings and customers alike, dangerous but less expensive ingredients and processes hidden from regulators and the public, and constant propaganda to ensure that people will vote for regulators who don’t regulate.

There’s a problem of propaganda leading people to stupid behavior, including stupid voting habits. As long as we believe in lasses-faire, hands-off, we will believe that it is right to be indifferent, to allow the scum to rise to the top. Genetic determinism and the Just World Fallacy conspire to make people think that the rich and powerful earned their wealth and power. Look at how many people went on and on about Trump being this super-smart, self-made billionaire, when the fact is that he inherited his fortune, and is such a bad businessman that he lost most of it. Only the inertia of massive wealth, like your 2% example, kept him from sinking into the oblivion being a used car salesman. But too many people have bought into the propaganda that says that the businessmen are the real heroes of society, and anyone who isn’t a billionaire is stupid, lazy and doesn’t deserve the underwear that holds their private parts up.

A.F. Rey said...

Well, the founder of a major religion loved cats and condemned dogs as unclean.
What a victory for the felines!

OTOH, cats were persecuted in parts of Europe during the Middle Ages for being witch's familiars.

So their power is not absolute!

Paul SB said...


"You knew I’d want to chime in on this, right? 8)"
- Of course. We are probably equally predictable.

"We are VERY concerned that those of you who see evils in need of vanquishing are making things worse."
- Your concerns are VERY misplaced. You are responding to Cold War propaganda, not to what actually happens. Most people are aware of the Law of Unintended Consequences, and know that the way you deal with this is not to do nothing, but the be ready to correct when unintended consequences arise.

"It isn’t about ‘let them do whatever they want’. It is about ‘let them be’. The first tolerates immoral behavior. The second need not and that’s what many of us actually do."
- In practice these amount to the same thing. They might look to you as if they are different, but you aren't Joe Average. The distinction is lost on most people, who have very poor critical thinking skills and are not very willing to evaluate merits on both sides of an argument when one or the other side fits their enculturated prejudices just fine, thank you! Lasses-faire is, by definition, toleration of any behavior whatsoever. And that tolerance, that indifference, allows the scum to rise to the top and price-gouge by multiple factors of ten on medicines because people are left with the choice of dying or mortgaging their grandchildren's futures. By the praxis of lasses-faire, those price-gougers are "smart" like Donald Grope is smart for tax evasion. As long as people believe what you peddle to them, they are going to continue to vote for exploiters, glorify the exploiters, try to become the exploiters themselves, and damn all efforts to reign those exploiters in. The virtue ethics you are talking about sounds nice in principle, but ultimately is a smokescreen for the Just World Fallacy.

"... don’t expect me to ask of people that they remain so vigilant that they exhaust themselves."
- Seriously? I mean, seriously? Who is exhausting themselves fighting the injustices of class warfare? Not a lot of people. More are distracted by the red herring called race. More still are exhausted every day they come home from work and have barely enough energy to do anything more than toss a TV dinner in the nuke and crash out on the couch, because they work like dogs and owe their souls to the company store. This kind of inertia makes it so much easier for the slime to keep squeezing. A tiny few work tirelessly on everyone else's behalf, and every time someone says the evil government needs to butt out of business, those few inch closer to the grave.

Jumper said...

Some people just kill the bear. Paul SB would, too, and not only that he hates the bear. A lot.

locumranch said...

This thread contains an astounding number of inherent contradictions:

First, up to 80% of western cities are prone to flooding because they were quite literally built in swamps, wetlands, flood plains & sea level water adjacent locales. This list includes Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, Toronto, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Venice, Moscow & St. Petersburg. And, subsequently, it should come as no surprise to anyone that wetlands tend to be WET, swamps tend to be SWAMPY & flood plains tend to FLOOD.

Second, up to 80% of the total western population chooses to reside in these flood-prone urban death traps which can never be made 'safe' in regard to flooding.

And, third, NO sizable city, metropolis or urban centre can ever be made 'resilient' by definition as the civil defence model of 'resilience' requires (1) defencibility, (2) redundancy, (3) self-sufficiency, (4) proximity to resources and (5) decentralisation.

In short, the modern metropolis is indefensible as it is prone to flooding. It lacks redundancy as it relies on shared infrastructure; it lacks self-sufficiency as it relies on outside resources; it lacks proximity to resources as it relies on non-redundant shared infrastructure for the transport of said outside resources; and it lacks decentralisation which means that it can be destroyed by a single storm, a single EMP or a singular disruption in its shared transport infrastructure.

To the sizable city, an EMP or any sustained power outage would mean NO computers, cellphones, transportation, cash registers, restaurants, groceries, pharmacies, banks or sanitation services. Toilets would cease to function. There would be water shortages & widespread looting within 6 hours. Emergency services would fail within 12 hours. And, assuming no outside assistance on par with the Berlin Airlift, urban mortality would approach 50% within 7 days,

Urban Resilience is an oxymoron.


Jumper said...

A walking talking contradiction should know.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | You are responding to Cold War propaganda, not to what actually happens.

Well… I was in my mid-twenties when my cortex came fully online, right? That would have been during Reagan’s second term, but I was very, very apolitical back then. I either had my nose in textbooks or I was trying to escape textbooks. If I had bothered to take a survey, I probably would have looked a little left-of-center with opinions that ranged from socialist to anarchist. I just didn’t think much about this stuff back then. I do now and will admit I might be reacting to the person I used to be.

In practice these amount to the same thing.

I’m inclined to agree, but that only helps make my underlying point. It isn’t the capitalist system that is the issue. Indifference is and it can be found in a variety of systems. When humans choose to be indifferent, it is an ethical failing. I argue it is an error to blame the system.

The point I want to make clear, though, is that our current system is actually better because of the invisible hand. More of us could be indifferent than are at present if not for how we do business. Adam Smith explained it, so I won’t write volumes here.

The virtue ethics you are talking about sounds nice in principle, but ultimately is a smokescreen for the Just World Fallacy.

I disagree, but until you’ve read McCloskey, I won’t hammer the point too much. You are mistaken.

A tiny few work tirelessly on everyone else's behalf, and every time someone says the evil government needs to butt out of business, those few inch closer to the grave.

No. Again… you are mistaken. I don’t think you can see the forces in action. However, you are doing what a social T-cell must do for us, so I won’t complain much.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: As I see it, the problem with 'laissez-faire' conceptually is that so often it boils down to "If one man wants to enslave another man, no third man should ever interfere." That arrangement strikes me as a very specific kind of 'selective indifference' -
"I want to pay my employees as little as I can, so no union should interfere."
"I want to reap benefits from a fruitful society, but no government should tax me."
"I want to generate great profits with minimal risk. That's theoretically impossible, BUT regularly attainable if I can foist the consequences of bad bets onto other people, while keeping the benefits of good bets for myself."

In an extremely rudimentary tribe, a 'high risk' bet might be, "Gosh, I can't tell...will these specific berries kill me if I eat them? Hey, Big Dude, why don't you eat them and tell us if you get sick?"

If 'Big Dude' takes the risk, he gets a benefit - a meal - but also bears the risk - poisoning. Everyone else in the group also benefits from his risk - they see whether he gets sick and dies, and they increase their pool of knowledge (which berries are safe). But most likely, some folks are closer to Big Dude, and to the berries, and can pick and eat them all before others come around - they gain the most benefits while bearing the fewest risks. If they're smart, they'll pick more than they need and trade the surplus, or later on, figure out how to plant it to produce more berries.

When the same sort of person routinely attaches himself to the risk-takers, maximizing personal benefits from their risks, he will eventually become physically healthier, but may pay a social price: 'Big Dude' will eventually get annoyed that he's the one who takes the chances, while 'Watcher Man' benefits (particularly if any risks Big Dude takes don't pay off). Usually, 'Watcher Man' will trade some of his own surplus to Big Dude to compensate for that risk Big Dude takes.

But in a large tribe, or a city, or a large country, 'Watcher Man' may hire propagandists to spread word of his virtue, enabling him to find a constant stream of risk-takers to exploit. At that point, he transitions from watching the work of other risk-takers and positioning himself near them so he can maximize the benefit from seeing how their risks play out, to touting his own excellence and attracting the risk-takers to him: he becomes 'Parasite Man.' He has a number of unusual, counter-intuitive tricks he can play, e.g., normally Big Dude, Watcher Man, and everyone else want a large surplus, but Parasite Man knows if he feeds all the berry bushes to 'his' goats, he will eat while others starve.

We created math, science, writing, art, religion, trade, politics, law, and a host of other systems and structures in part to rein in or bypass 'Parasite Man.' We are still contending with him.

"Look at how many people went on and on about Trump being this super-smart, self-made billionaire"
Trump has been exceptionally effective at attracting risk-takers who hand their money over to him (through casinos and even larger investments). He is the exemplar of 'Parasite Man.'

Beauty pageant contestants spend small fortunes prepping and presenting - and once he gets his mitts on a number of them, risk-takers will come, drawn either by the pledge 'I will teach you to be rich!' or the unvoiced pledge, 'I will bring you beauty (with skimpier bikinis and higher heels than ever before)!' Those risk-takers do not realize until later that they're the ones who made the 'Master' rich in the first place. By the time they do, he discards them and moves on...

donzelion said...

Locum: "Urban Resilience is an oxymoron."

Indeed, for thousands of years, people have left the cities to go to the resilient rural areas, and the cities are entirely drained of population - while the...Oh wait, no they didn't.

Maybe, just maybe the fact that urban areas exist (and grow) is better attributed to the fact that having other humans around gives us the possibility of helping one another - out of kindness (rarely), or self-benefit (often) - and that sort of aid outweighs the risks. Or it could be that you're the only smart person left, and all urban dwellers are fools. While you may claim to believe the latter, you still spend significant time here - implying that you don't actually believe it at all.

donzelion said...

Locum is right about one thing though: we do build too much on flood plains without thinking about it. Again, it comes down to insurance.

The 'National Flood Insurance Program' started in 1968 as a good effort to (1) provide affordable insurance to property owners, and (2) encourage communities to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations.

In 1968, the concept of global climate change was on a considerably less scientific basis than today. Metrics were set up for establishing 'safe' and 'unsafe' structures, intended to fuel a massive building spree and ensure housing for everyone. Housing is the largest expense most Americans will make (and their primary investment vehicle), so where one falls in that waterfall matters a lot: if one gets paid out early, one has an incentive to take maximum risks, then trade off the consequences of those risks to others down the chain. Someone gets stuck with a flooded home, while someone else reaps an incredible profit.

What party spent the greater part of the last 30 years, (a) in power, (b) denying that any of this climate change stuff exists, and (c) fighting against regulating the codes to add additional protections? Surely, the 'urban dwellers' in control of Congress...oh wait. Nope.

If anything, understanding the relationship between developers and insurers is the key to understanding climate denialism - NOT the oil companies or producers (which will happily pay attention to climate change when building their own facilities - they just don't want to foot the bill for fixing it). These folks are PERFECTLY aware of science, completely grasping engineering and meteorology - and profoundly sensitive to the costs arising from any modified standard. If any of those standards change, ever, then what they built in 2010 may be deemed an uninsurable 'death trap' in 2020 - and their entire plan to shift the costs of any risks onto someone else derailed.

David Brin said...

LH… Trump got Dem support to help the GOP moderates pass the temporary budget measure.

Greg Hullender, Stay tuned or remind me in a few months. I have very little info on the Aurora tour yet. All I know is it won’t be cheap. It may already be closed….

Locumranch’s most recent is … cogent! He’s snarky and gloomy and nasty, but that’s a given and we (well, I) don’t hold that against him. But this time he made solid assertions about the indefensible nature of the modern city and offered some evidence. Good on you, son.

Indeed, there’s nothing new here. Cities always burned and were centers of plague. When farmers moved to Birmingham and London in the 1600s to 1800s, their death rates were huge, yet they kept coming, why?

Because life on the farms sucked worse. Oh, I can prove that. But I don’t have to. It’s inherent in the logic. They knew cities were dangerous, and still came in droves.

Oh, and cities enabled us to fight back against enemies, so we invested heavily in defending them in wars. And guess what... have succeeded to a large degree. Lee and Jubal Early were kept out of Washington. Construction laws made CA cities vastly tougher against quakes. You make a point. Though it is surrounded by an accompanying miasma of bullshit.

Jumper said...

The other day I decided to read some opinions of antifas written by libertarians. Anyone interested can search on "libertarians on antifas" for example, and do the same. I find some pro-free speech views, and some ... other opinions, of which this is a snippet, found here

"Fascists are not looking to cooperatively discover truth and refine positions. They don’t want real discourse, they want to trollishly undermine the very idea of discourse until everything is a morass equally arbitrary assertions, judged solely by their popularity and immediate emotional resonance. For them a platform is just a means to recite lies over and over again in the manner of Goebbels, as if they were mantras and the whole world their mirror. There is no truth, there is only those who know how to play the game of power and sentimental losers that think ideas can save them. They and their adherents don’t care how well you can fact check them; what matters is that they be seen commanding a room, and the recognition that comes with that." - Thomas L. Knapp

Jumper said...

I just finished this the other day:
by John McPhee

The second part about diverting the flow of lava by spraying it with seawater was fascinating. One would think the megatons of lava would pay no heed to humans, but it had an effect once the people got the right pumps. Hawaii experiences far more than that, however.

The part about the Mississippi wanting to go now into the Atchafalaya River is more of a train wreck. Unintended consequences will be paid.

The part about California mud and earthslides is also a lesson about people.

Paul451 said...

Not quite the magic laser-cooler from Sundiver, but still interesting:

Stanford researchers have developed a nano-material that increases the amount of daytime cooling of a building by reflecting almost all sunlight, but also radiating the heat from the building at a specific wavelength of infrared that happens to be in a "window" in Earth's atmosphere, so that it can pass through the atmosphere and clouds without being absorbed. That way, it not only produces a net cooling even under full sun, it doesn't contribute to the urban "heat island" effect (unlike typical heat-pumps like air conditioners.)

It's all over the web:

Paul451 said...

"In my universe, a Flare devastates much of human civilisation in the middle of the 22nd century. Not only is there massive dislocation as much electronic tech is ruined, but in the West, people wearing cyber implants are either killed outright or suffer hideous wounds and disabilitites."

Uhhh... sorry, EMPs mimic flares, but flares don't mimic EMPs.

There are three components in an EMP, which have effects on different scales and at different distances. One induces short-circuits in small electronics, the smaller the circuit, the worse the effect; that tends to be line-of-sight from the blast, fairly localised. Another is the opposite and induces currents only in long antennas, such as power lines, but it can bounce off the atmosphere and propagate hundreds of kilometres.

A massive solar flare or CME only has the latter component. It can't cause the other two. Therefore while it induces excess current in power lines, and potentially short-circuits anything connected to the mains, as well as potentially taking out the grid itself, it won't have any effect on electronics that aren't attached to a miles long antenna. Thus it won't have any effect on electronic implants, etc.

Alfred Differ said...

If we were to spread everyone out again along with all the money, we’d wind up with cities again in the reasonably near future. Transportation costs are lower near water, so anyone taking goods to a market is more likely to accumulate capital if they live near water. With a few extra bucks around, they’d be able to hire others and the centralization would begin again. Cities and water go together. There is simply no way around this.

Where they aren’t on water, there is some other relatively cheap transportation method available or the nation they are in is wealthy enough to put cities nearer to resources instead of transport networks. In that case, the transport networks will adapt as they have in the US. However, we started along rivers and around ports for the same reason everyone else does it. In fact, we have the best river system for this to be found on the entire planet. The Greater Mississippi River Basin is connected, fertile, and gets rained on. Resources + Transport+multiple Climate Zones. What a deal!

It is an error to think cities are indefensible. We do it all the time and only sometimes do the defenses fail.

It is an error to think cities lack redundancy. They are usually anti-fragile in the sense that they learn to deal with shocks. They are also more likely to have large warehousing acreage devoted to stored resources. The market players in cities are the ones who do this, though, so part of the error might come from misidentifying component parts of a city.

It is an error to think cities are not close to the resources they need. Measuring mileage between a city center and a resource is a mistaken way to do it. A better measure is the cost of using the transport network in which a city is enmeshed. Break a bridge and the mileage stays the same while costs might go up as transport is re-routed. Those higher costs draw resources, though, like a siren call.

As for cities collapsing when the electricity goes away, I have to wonder if locumranch has ever lived in a city. With no banks, we’d barter for a while. With no electricity, some of us would pull out our PV systems and sell recharge time for computers and cell phones and whatever else people thought might be useful. It wouldn’t take much. Sure. People would die. The weakest of us in hospitals that depend on electricity would go first.

As for all cities dealing with an EMP that takes down large chunks of our infrastructure… okay. That would be bad news. Lots of death, but we won’t be without communication. Some of the amateur radio operators would still be up. That’s just the way they are.

Alfred Differ said...

oooh. My bad. I mean flare instead of EMP. Paul451 is right.

Jumper said...

Banks ran a long time without electricity. The big banks need a few Honda generators to run their computers. A lot can be done on handshakes by some top executives. A few Hugh McCalls who jump on it, and I am sure even I, who expects it, would be amazed at how fast a big bank could get back up and running - with the lights still off.

Alfred Differ said...

Yah. As for hospitals, one could look into whether their backups are connected to those long antennae. Most places where I've worked that had generators also had big breakers that make an obvious sound when the kick over.

Also, amateur radio operators tend to understand why they should isolate their antenna in certain ways from the rest of their gear. Shunting DC to the side isn't a complicated concept. We are taught about lightening at least. 8)

J.L.Mc said...

This talk of EMPs highlights one of the dominant themes in my thinking over the past few years, which is that we rely too much on electronics.
I am not against electronics, of course, for I'm writing this with my iPad mini. But the fact is that the way electronic hi-tech is used it quite unneeded. You don't need such things for many of the purposes they have been used for now. For example...
-using electric mixers when "eggbeater" type devices can do the job just as well.
-electric heaters can easily be replaced by simple wearing warm clothing and having your house insulated
-having gas cookers or even solar ovens for heating food and liquid.
The list could go on, but the fact remains that EMPs are only a problem if you don't have non-electric systems that are all ready in place and used regularly for when the electric systems are out of action.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LH… Trump got Dem support to help the GOP moderates pass the temporary budget measure.

Congressional Republicans preferred an 18-month extension so they wouldn't have to vote on it again until after the 2018 elections. If not that, then they wanted a 6 month extension. Schumer pressed for only 3 months, and Trump agreed.

My question is why 3 months is preferable to 6 months for Democrats.

locumranch said...

Alfred & David are living in the past:

(1) Once-was during the Industrial Age, the heart of civilisation was 'The City' and centralised urban brick-n-mortar concentrations of management, labour & resource distribution made good financial sense, but not so much in our postindustrial Internet Age of off-shoring, just-in-time inventory & Amazon.

(2) Once-was not so long ago during the time of cash and written records , bankers & retailers took the time to know their customers, did business on a handshake & extended credit on personal discretion, but those touchy-feely times are long gone. Finance now consists of anonymous numbered accounts & instant credit scores; businesses & governments prefer the automated card swipe to either cash or barter transactions; retailers rely on automated barcode scanners to tally their costs & charges; and all-of-the-above CLOSE THEIR DOORS when the power fails.

They also betray typical urban solipsism, believing (as they appear to do) that urban needs & hardships deserve priority over those of the rural resource providers, as demonstrated by politically partisan displays of FEMA support. The Feds have lavished hundreds of billions on the Blue Cities affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy & now Harvey (soon), but equivalent charitable & financial largesse was nowhere to be found when it came to affected rurality.

Of course, this solipsistic urban misconception is due to change as soon as rurality witnesses the unidirectional nature of pro-urban federal sympathy. Hundreds of billions will be lavished on true-blue Houston, but the surrounding, relatively valueless & universally impoverished red rural countryside will receive a pittance, so much so that the altruistic Cajun Navy will think thrice & put their boats away before offering aid to the blue urban well-to-do during the next foreseeable disaster.

Charity which is unreciprocated is soon exhausted.


Jonathan Sills said...

3 months is preferable to 6 months because that means that the issue will probably be solved before midterm elections (14 months from now), while still leaving the issue fresh enough in voters' minds to use (as it seems unlikely that any long-term solution will be arrived at in a mere three months, barring the Republicans suddenly rediscovering the benefits of bipartisanship).

The full 18-month extension, of course, would place matters safely on the far side of midterms, while six months could leave the issue still unresolved come November of next year - and the Repub stalwarts have shown themselves willing to believe in the rather silly myth of "Democrat obstructionism" (as if the Demo-cats could ever be herded like that), so could be persuaded to blame Dems for the lack of progress.

LarryHart said...

@Jonathan Sills,

I still don't get it. Three months means they vote again in December (2017). Six months would mean they vote again in March (2018). How does the earlier expiration help Democrats in the November 2018 elections more than the later one?

Laurence said...

One factor I've not seen anyone discuss in relation to North Korean nukes is Peaktu San. The highest peak in Korea (and the alleged birthplace of Kim Jong Il in official state mythology) it is also an active supervocano, one which, if it errupted, would obilterate most of North Korea and much of China too. Tremors around the region had the North Koreans worried enough to invite US scientists into the country to help them monitor the volcano a couple of years ago. Now, consider, what if the Kim regime has concluded, rightly or wrongly, that Peaktu San is about to blow? In other words, what would a regime consumed by hate do, if it believed it had nothing to lose? We may be in the process of finding out...

Donald Gisselbeck said...

A question for the knee-jerk "taxes are theft" people. Should we raise taxes, especially on the predator class, to pay for recovery if any of these catastrophes happen?

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David S said...


I think the debt limit analysis is more along the lines of which is better: having the GoP have the debt limit debate every 3 months until the election (4 times) or every 6 months until the election? Debt ceiling debates don't look good for the GoP. Raising the limit angers the anti-debt republican base and shutting down the government/cutting services angers the populous. Quarterly reminders that the House and Senate cannot govern may help the Dems take back the House/Senate. Also, the debt ceiling vote has now become a recurring bargaining chip that is likely to be used the healthcare, tax reform, immigration/DACA/boarder wall, infrastructure, disaster rebuilding debates.

donzelion said...

Jumper: "Banks ran a long time without electricity."

So did airplanes, but I'd hate to try it now.

"A lot can be done on handshakes by some top executives."

Shut down the cooling systems in any number of industrial processes, and one quickly learns how much more there is to a company than the executives upon whom the news fixates.

I suspect engineers are capable of handling most crises they contemplate. I fear that incentives often drive cutting corners - eliminating full-time engineers and replacing them with consultants, and replacing quality consultants with amateur hacks, etc. Again, if you're a $1 billion enterprise and suffer a catastrophic loss that threatens business continuity (as well as other risks), you insure. If you're a $10 million enterprise, you also get business continuity insurance. Which of those two enterprises do you imagine will actually get paid before the enterprise AND the insurer goes bankrupt - the one that can field a team of 100 lawyers at the drop of a hat, or the one that will struggle to muster a team of 4 within a few months while also trying to keep itself afloat?

One of the oft overlooked aspects of globalization was that unless N. Korea somehow simultaneously nukes S. Korea, America, Japan, AND China (and probably Europe too while we're at it) - many (most?) of the largest enterprises can survive, suffering some losses but not necessarily crippled. Companies have appreciated the notion of 'spreading one's footprint to ensure survival' for quite some time. One hopes our species may similarly catch on.

donzelion said...

David S: I would expect the GOP to play chicken with the Dems in 2018, with their grand showdown intended to hit in spring AND intentionally create as much wreckage as possible.

Why? At least 12 Democratic Senate races that are 'competitive' (I'd include Bob Menendez of NJ, seeing as how he's facing criminal charges right now and may well not be in office next year). These are states Trump won or in which the GOP won statewide offices recently. The only 'competitive' GOP seats are Arizona, Texas, and Nevada (none of which will be an easy pickup for Dems).

"Raising the limit angers the anti-debt republican base and shutting down the government/cutting services angers the populous."
And when they're angry, they vote - and when they vote, it'll be against incumbents. Meanwhile, will Dems even bother to show up? 50% of the country doesn't during a presidential year...what will galvanize them to do so in 2018?

Still, I think Schumer calculated that 3 months just isn't enough time to create a real health care plan, 6 months might be. Kicking the can a short distance down the road lets them evaluate where things stand and what the GOP intends to hold hostage to keep the government running. I don't know what they have in mind, but 'Trump is a bastard' is probably not going to be enough to get Dems to show up to vote in 2018 any more than it worked in 2016, so they're in a defensive posture.

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Jumper said...

I had in mind executives trading letters of credit. And involving managers of local supply chains (grocers.) Obviously retail banking would be delayed as long as possible because they prefer running electronically rather than trying to use scores of scriveners and trucking cash back and forth. But they could for a few weeks and systems would emerge.

Paul SB said...


A bear is just an animal - a dangerous one to be sure, but it's only crime is to fill its belly, which is no crime at all. It's just instinct. You kill the bear to defend yourself, and however much it scares you, hate is very misplaced.

Corporate executives are at least ostensibly human. The rules are very different, as are the expectations. They should be able to tell the difference between right and wrong, and certainly they aren't all evil, but enough of them are to make everyone else's default setting to distrust them and fight to keep them from having power over decent human beings. In their case hate is entirely appropriate, because they should know better. They are little different from murderers, wife-beaters, child-molesters - well, the ones who behave like typical executives. If they were any other animal, we would shoot them and be done with it. But they have the skins of human beings, so we treat them like human beings and expect them to do the same for us. yet so few of them do.

Understanding what happens to them neurologically, how their greed and utter disdain for human life comes from the feedback loop between wealth display behavior and dopamine circuits in the nucleus accumbens might make us feel sorry for them. But when you see people living in a Dilbert comic, when you see people's lives destroyed by these people, needing psychoactive medications to even function. Then there's the ones who are so stressed out by the corporate culture they have no choice but to swim in (because there is no other way to make a living) that they self-medicate with dangerous drugs (and though it's legal, I count the ubiquitous alcohol in the list of dangerous drugs - it's so bad that withdrawal from it can kill you). The high-competition, high-stress nature of American business culture is entirely toxic to humanity, but because we have lived with it since the Gilded Age, it's easy to think that we are normal. We are not. We are dysfunctional at a scale that is not only unconscionable, it will ultimately take us out like the Maya or the Romans. The seeds of a society's destruction are often the very things that brought them to power in the first place. Some of us can see that, but like culture generally, it is as invisible to most people as the air they breath. It has been normalized by a century and a half of institutions adapting to the memes that tell us that greed, competitiveness and self-aggrandizement are more natural to humanity than kindness, consideration and the interdependence of being social animals.

So yeah, I think hate is appropriate here. Not blind hate against an entire class of people - that's prejudice. But reprehensible behavior is so incentivized by our business culture that the default position of any intelligent human being has to be deep distrust of anyone who sits in that corner office in those tall, dark towers.

Jumper said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Paul. If you haven't noticed I leave some open ended remarks. I often have no set conclusions and am fishing for enlightenment and thoughts to ponder.


I have noticed how often large corporations try to hustle me with a lie as their very first attempt at contact and never even see or likely care what this does to my opinion of them.

Paul SB said...


There are no evil communists trying to overthrow the Free West. Businesses being destroyed by evil government regulation is a myth. Betsy De Vos claims that Obama-era regulations meant to protect rape victims on college campuses went too far, resulting in innocent men being jailed over false accusations. This is right-wing agitprop. 25% of all women in the United States of America experience sexual assault (not just harassment or discrimination, but actual assault, which, incidentally, is approximately the percentage of women who suffer from anxiety and/or depressive disorders. Clearly work stress isn't the only problem.). The number of men who are falsely accused is a fraction of a percent.

Likewise the idea that environmental regulations are driving businesses to bankruptcy right and left is utter bullshit. I know this one from personal experience. When I was doing archaeology, we were considered to be environmental monitors by industry. Real archaeology is much less like Indiana Jones and much more like being a health inspector. In all the years I did that job, we never shut down a project, much less drove a business to bankruptcy. All we could do was delay a project while we got the cultural resources out of the ground. We were okay with business doing its thing, but none of us were comfortable with how fast they wanted us to get out of their way. We excavated right in front of the backhoes, and seriously trashed sites in the process. Like species going extinct, once those cultural resources are destroyed, they're gone. And after Hawai'i, California has the strictest laws in the country.

But to make life even more fun, all the engineers - a very conservative (and urban I might add, in contradistinction to locum spew) lot - were constantly trying to get us fired, and they had convinced the regular construction workers that we were there to take their jobs away. A few of us got hit by those backhoes. They bought the bullshit hook, line and sinker. Not one lost their jobs because of us, or because of the biological monitors either. All that ever happened was that if we found something we could tell the crew to go dig somewhere else for awhile. Maybe the delay might have cost some executive a valuable collector car. They might have to wait another couple months to get that third Rolls Royce, so they would have to go to the company party in their old Rolls Royce and hang their head in shame.

I looked up McCloskey in the local library system and found one of her books, so I put it on reserve. It usually takes a few days, and once I get it I might take awhile to get to it, as I have my nose in another brain book and am trying to get in a Vinge binge (just finished "The Snow Queen" and before that "Outcasts of the Heaven Belt" which someone here recommended and for which I am thankful. It might have been our host, but I don't remember). Once I get started, I read at a glacial pace, too, so I'll probably max out my renewals trying to get through the thing. I'm glad you're enjoying Sapolsky (his dry humor as well as his amazing knowledge). I wish more people would pick him up.

As far as where your frontal lobes were during your mid-twenties, most people are not very political at that age. They are early into careers and likely starting families and have little time to think between being terrified of the boss and changing diapers at 3 am. No surprise there. It's when the kids are grown up and you've hit the Lexan Ceiling that you have time and energy to think about such things, unless you're some kind of egghead like me.

Paul SB said...


Short-sightedness is the standard in American corporate culture. This is what Dr. Brin is talking about when he brings up ROI. It's self-destructive in the long run, but executives can reap huge profits for their display games in the short run, then abandon their ruined companies and sail off into new adventures in legal robbery. As long as We the People buy into the notion that this is human nature, and these people are smart, we will forever be their victims.

But then, I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, which no doubt affects the vehemence with which I type. You're welcome, either way. We come here for conversation, don't we? And to be understood.

locumranch said...

PSB's assertion that bankers & executives are "are little different from murderers, wife-beaters, child-molesters" is so typical of Leftie Stalinist hypocrites who have slaughtered millions to save a few thousands, even though they claim to be full of love for humanity.

These are the same 'Antifa' nut jobs who dress in black like so many Blackshirt Squadristi in order to dehumanise & attack all those who disagree with their irrational political & economic belief systems.

By denying the humanity of others, these lefties who teach our children also self-identify as delusional sociopaths & my enemies, and the enemy of my enemy appears to be both my friend & ally, at least initially, in the same way that the fact-using professions mistake these irrational nut jobs as their erstwhile friends & allies.

We are all so screwed.


Tim H. said...

So dehumanization must only run one way? People tend to speak as they're spoken to, once a negative tone is set, it won't be forgotten. But a more civilized form of antifa would be desirable, a commenter at Charlie Stross's blog suggests:
Laughter may indeed be the best medicine for fascism.

A.F. Rey said...

Also, amateur radio operators tend to understand why they should isolate their antenna in certain ways from the rest of their gear. Shunting DC to the side isn't a complicated concept. We are taught about lightening at least. 8)

Not to be a pill (although ultimately that is my intention), but what does gynecology have to do with amateur radio?

Lightening (n): a drop in the level of the uterus during the last weeks of pregnancy as the head of the fetus engages in the pelvis.


Jumper said...

People are generally a social lot, so meaninglessness just evokes a "huh?" as often as not, because nonsense is thin gruel after its novelty is gone.

So Doctor Loco discovers daily, right about the same time he yet again is blinded by the astounding revelation that no one here gets out alive. Like a malignant Groundhog Day of his own devise, he straps on his Karmic wheel/crucifix again and again and recites his vitriolic curses at the very Void from whence we all emerged, never noticing that optimism is more than a mere revolutionary act of defiance, but that out of this Pandora's act odd things, interesting and even hopeful things, creep out, as if from nowhere.

Jumper said...

A,F.Rey is a Grammar Nazi! (And a Spelling Nazi too!)
[Welcome, my friend!]

I have inured myself to the old ones - who-whom, lie-lay. It's the new bizarre ones that get me. Writing "that" for "than" or "then" for "than" or the weirdest of all, people who think the plural forms of words ending in "ist" - racist, scientist, etc. - require no "s" at the end, as in "All these scientist know is what they're told" or "They're all a bunch of racist!"

locumranch said...

To 'humanise' others means 'To portray, endow or attribute ACTUAL human characteristics' to others, NOT to generalise the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy to all-of-humanity by arguing that 'All True Humans' must abide by your unilateral & arbitrary definition of what you believe all perfectible humans 'should', 'ought to' and 'are supposed to' be, behavior-wise, as in the case of Pinker & any number of self-anointed priestly Procrusteans.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And, sightless judgment -- yours, mine & ours -- she comes with reck & rack.


donzelion said...

Paul SB: "Businesses being destroyed by evil government regulation is a myth."

Nearly as silly to think the government bites the hand that feeds it as it is to think the 'liberal media' bites the hand that feeds it. But...

"Likewise the idea that environmental regulations are driving businesses to bankruptcy right and left is utter bullshit."
The bankrupt will frequently excuse their inability to repay creditors due to 'circumstances beyond their control.' One should not automatically disregard such claims, but one also should not give them any more credence than one would to any other statements, seeing as how they've already broken some serious promises.

"In all the years I did [archaeology], we never shut down a project, much less drove a business to bankruptcy."
'Historical preservation' probably affects a large number of highly leveraged projects, esp. when a prime contractor 'underbids,' gambling on additional financing coming online, or cramming down the risk of delay onto subcontractors. By the time the shovels (or backhoes) strike the ground, sunk costs make it rare for a project to be abandoned entirely, but subs may earn nothing at all (or give all their profits to banks). Subcontractors who get squeezed the most will strike against the environmentalists/archaeologists/regulators - anyone OTHER than the primes who most likely screwed them. After all, the prime probably isn't going anywhere...and those other guys aren't gonna hire you for your next job.

What you've raised is a common application of the story I outlined in my earlier post about Parasite Man and how he draws the risk-takers to him, screws them, and then draws a new pool of risk-takers...

Alfred Differ said...

@J.L.Mc | I’m still inclined to use the electric mixer. The person who typically ran the eggbeater was the wife who was trapped in a social role that wasted her intellect, so I don’t intend to be a male suggesting we return to hand tools. The women around me would think I implied the rest of it too. 8)

One thing to note is that we CAN return to older tech, but that is largely because we are wealthy enough to suffer the waste of our time that the older tech causes. I’ve whipped cream into butter before and it takes a while and a bit of muscle. I would consider doing it again if my budget was running lean and I needed to ditch my gym membership, but otherwise it is a waste of my time. I’d rather be talking to all of you here, or reading a book, or earning an income… or just about anything else.

David Brin said...

LH the dems wanted just 3 months because they want the GOP to face this issue repeatedly in the next election cycle.

Locumranch suggests that “the city” may be less necessary for a modern civilization because of some of the marvelous empowering technologies being provided by the smart people who he and his cult hate.

In fact, I am fine with this. I am uncomfortable with packing our ‘eggs’ into fragile urban tarmac get zones.

Alas, the rest is utter bull. The “city” that offends his confed cult is not the tall buildings. It is cosmopolitanism. It is universities and the openminded, positive sum mentality we are developing and that turns the children of confederates into future-oriented blues. That doesn’t stop if we disperse the “city” into smaller urb units.

Ooooh he lectures us about “dehumanizing” multi billionaires. And there you have it. Lickspittle kowtowing to the powerful is the confederate reflex going back to the tories who fought for the king in the 1770s and for plantation lords in the 1860s. Sorry, but those guys can take care of themselves and pitying them is dumb. Oligarchy repressed 99.9999% of our ancestors and kept us in grinding poverty. We need fair competition. Your lords are almost always the destroyers of fair competition.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | No my friend. It is you who is living in the past. Big stuff is happening around you.

1. People are pouring into cities at a rate of over 1 million each week.
2. More than half the world’s people live in cities.
3. Over 90% or urban growth is occurring in developing nations.
4. Cities account for about 70% of the global GDP.
5. NO country has ever grown to middle-income status without industrializing and urbanizing, but newer ones don’t need as long to catch up as those who started first. Depending on what you count, it takes about a generation now.
6. Youth are 40% more likely to move to the cities, so this leaves rural areas with an aging residue population.

On the flip side

1. Many new city dwellers live in slums. Nearly 1 billion. However, slums are often economically vibrant.
2. Slum populations are projected to grow as rural areas are depopulated. However, between 2000 and 2010, roughly 225 million were lifted out of slum conditions.

I can go on and on like this, but it’s pretty easy to find this stuff. Just look. Try to let go of a national perspective, though. This civilization isn’t about any one particular nation no matter how myopic Americans tend to be.

However, if you want to point to particular companies and industries and argue they aren’t resilient, I might be inclined to agree. Some businesses evaporated after 9/11 because they had no viable business continuity plan. Banks aren’t allowed to operate that way in the US, though. Not if you want FDIC insurance.

LarryHart said...

David S:

I think the debt limit analysis is more along the lines of which is better: having the GoP have the debt limit debate every 3 months until the election (4 times) or every 6 months until the election?

I wasn't thinking that it would be every three months, but you might have a point.

Something else I thought of this morning--three months gives the Dems time to attach a "save the dreamers" amendment to any debt ceiling/budget bill.

Quarterly reminders that the House and Senate cannot govern may help the Dems take back the House/Senate.

I hope Schumer and Pelosi have thought this through. Until now, any failures of government were clearly at the feet of the Republicans. When they tried to blame Dems for obstructionism, it didn't work because everyone was aware that Republicans were in control. If it starts to look as if "Trump and the Democrats" are the ones failing to govern, the outcome might not go well.

Also, the debt ceiling vote has now become a recurring bargaining chip that is likely to be used the healthcare, tax reform, immigration/DACA/boarder wall, infrastructure, disaster rebuilding debates.

How quickly things have changed. It used to be that Republicans were opposed (on principle) to raising the debt ceiling, so they'd force Dems to give concessions before they'd vote to do that. It wasn't a sure thing that the Dems could turn the tables, because a government shutdown seemed to be a feature, not a bug, to the Republicans. Apparently, that's not quite the case any more.

Alfred Differ said...

@Donald Gisselbeck | I’m not quite the knee-jerk type, but I have a few friends who are. I can fill in for them temporarily if you like. Let me adjust my hat a moment and get into the role.

What do you mean ‘predator class?’ We create jobs for all you sloths or cowards who won’t take the risks we do and you DARE to argue that we are immoral? Without us, you’d be screwed!

Okay. That’s enough of that. I’ll just point out that taxing the rich won’t produce enough money to deal with the catastrophes. Would it make you feel better to smack a few people around, though? Got a blame issue? Hmm. Many do, but I’d like to encourage you to let go of any anger you have and do something to protect you and your loved ones instead. If you own your own home, for example, it’s not that hard to alter it a bit to isolate it from flare impacts. Nor is it difficult to acquire a backup generator and a fuel supply to run it. Maybe a little windmill or PV system would be useful too? You might start a fashion trend among your neighbors. If floods worry you more, there are things you can do about them too. I used to live in Sacramento. They raised the whole town back in the 19th century after the big floods. They’ve created large areas for planned releases if the rivers get too full… and they use them. It takes a lot of money to do all this, but that is what community politics is all about. Do what you need to do locally because that is where most of the things that matter to your daily life occur.

David S said...

There are enough GOP in the house and senate to pass any legislation that requires a simple majority and haven't demonstrated much intent to reach across the isle and negotiate. (Look at the health bill as an example). I think is why the Dems are willing to use the debt limit to force the GOP to come to the table. I too expect to see a "save the dreamers" bill attached in three months.

The Dems I've spoken to about the debt ceiling think that it should be thrown out completely. They argue that when the legislature passes expenditures without passing a way to pay for it that they have agreed to go into debt to pay for it.

Alfred Differ said...

@A.F. Rey | Heh. That would explain why my spell checker didn't bark at me.

Lightning - That zappy thing from the sky that brings about an involuntary bowel release if you are too close. Momma Nature reminding us we aren't as powerful as we think. 8)

(Yah. I used to like to watch lightning storms. Not so much now after watching a hurricane sweep by off shore. Such things we learn if we survive our youth.) 8)

A.F. Rey said...

A,F.Rey is a Grammar Nazi! (And a Spelling Nazi too!)
[Welcome, my friend!]

Bwa-ha-ha! You fell right into my trap.

I invoke Godwin's Law. I win! :D

Sorry, I couldn't resist (neither of them). I saw the same misspelling a few days ago, and I just couldn't let this one go.

Besides, the pun was just too good. :)

It also reminded me of a story my high-school English teacher, Mrs. Jeppeson, once told. She had a student who wrote the sentence, "Anthony and Cleopatra fought many navel battles." Her response was, "This may be true, but I don't think it's what you meant." :)

donzelion said...

Alfred, my complaint is humans acting as 'parasites,' not as 'predators.' We are both a farming and a preying species - both are needed, both are valid expressions of humanity. But we're not a mosquitoes.

A hardware store in Florida that engages in price gouging in the face of a hurricane is probably acting like a predator: tough dealing, not exactly honorable conduct, but not parasitic. Their store is in the zone of danger, the angry customers may well come after them if the government breaks down. And they'll pay back a portion of that windfall in the form of taxes: they are part of the community, and rise and fall with it.

An insurance company outside Florida that pays out for $1m homes in 2 months but pays out for $100k homes in 2 years...slightly different story. Especially if that insurance company finances a set of developers planning to destroy most of the $100k homes and replace them with condos, so that the longer they withhold, the more they advance that lucrative plan.

"I’ll just point out that taxing the rich won’t produce enough money to deal with the catastrophes."
But (1) Taxes can limit the windfall of the short-term price gouger, and more importantly (2) Taxes will restrain the profit projections of parasites who actually benefit from manufacturing catastrophes. Taxes, like laws, are one of many tools to rein in parasitism. Our communities are the product of a large number of tools; it would be as silly to toss away a hammer for failing to be the wrench we wanted as it would be to use the hammer to solve every problem.

"I’d like to encourage you to let go of any anger you have and do something to protect you and your loved ones instead."
Anger isn't helpful. Among the worst aspects of anger is that it latches on to available targets, rather than actual causes of anger. Some people measure this propensity, exploit it, build entire structures and even communities through abusing it so as to arouse fury at the innocent (and pick their pockets). Struggling Confederate farmers rose to fight 'Yankee oppressors,' even as they owed debts to their slave-owning barons down the way.

"Do what you need to do locally because that is where most of the things that matter to your daily life occur."

Alfred Differ said...

A.F. Rey | My favorite screw ups occur when I accidentally drop necessary negations.

I do eat your babies.

Should have been...

I do not eat your babies.

I use that line occasionally (believe it or not) when I have to explain to a believer who comes to the realization that they must lump me in with the atheists that I'm basically a good person.

It can take a while to reverse an error like that. 8)

A.F. Rey said...

One of my best was just after I started my job as a technical writer.

We had a new computer system, and I was demonstrating it to a group of managers. I pulled up one of my procedures to show them how easy it was to use.

Then, over my shoulder, one of them asked, "How do you torque a washer?"

I looked at him, then back at my procedure. Sure enough, the third line said, "Torque the washer to 25-30 in-lbs."

I groaned and they laughed.

That was 27 years ago and they haven't gotten around to firing me yet. So I guess they forgave me. :)

Duncan Cairncross said...

"I’ll just point out that taxing the rich won’t produce enough money to deal with the catastrophes."

This is a common saying - and like the Tyler Calumny it is totally WRONG!!!

"The Rich" have enormous wealth -

The EIGHT richest people have the same wealth as the poorest 50%

So if you simply took the wealth from 8 people you could double the wealth of half of the worlds population!!

The world's richest 1% have the same wealth as the other 99%

So if you took the wealth of the 1% then you could DOUBLE everybody else's wealth

The problem is NOT that "Taxing the rich will not provide enough wealth" - there is an absolutely enormous amount of wealth salted away

The rich have broadcast the LIE that taking their wealth would only make people a small amount better off because "there are so many poor people and the rich are not actually very rich"

Twominds said...

@Paul SB on archeology

All we could do was delay a project while we got the cultural resources out of the ground. We were okay with business doing its thing, but none of us were comfortable with how fast they wanted us to get out of their way. We excavated right in front of the backhoes, and seriously trashed sites in the process. Like species going extinct, once those cultural resources are destroyed, they're gone.

That´s how it used to be in the Netherlands too. Then, about 20 years ago, a European directive came to protect archeological heritage, leaving the countries to find their best strategies to implement it. In the Netherlands anyone who wants to disturb the ground for buildings, infra or similar, must have archeological research done before they start, so no remains will be destroyed unseen. Like having an environmental effect assessment. It can be just checking what has been done before, a drilling campaign, up to a full blown excavation. But after the archeologists have said, it´s alright, go ahead, they can´t stop the project anymore. This way, even if it costs money that the developers don´t really like to spend, they do know the timeline and can plan with it. It works. No more digging hastily with the backhoes firing up their engines.

The digging is done by private companies, that compete for the work. This does have a drawback, as they can only compete on price, the developers aren´t interested in the results, it´s hard to keep quality up, and many results aren´t very useful for further research and syntesis. It is a kind of loss of cultural remains, as just the shards and stones aren´t the important part, but the overal picture and how we can refine it.

Twominds said...

To 'humanise' others means 'To portray, endow or attribute ACTUAL human characteristics' to others,

Yes, absolutely!

Time to practise what you preach. It would mean taking your own words seriously. Good luck!

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | Parasites are pernicious. I’m not overly inclined to design ex ante defenses against them, though. This will sound cold-blooded, but one of the ways to measure the health of an ecosystem is by the variety and number of parasites that exist within it. You know I see markets as ecosystems, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I think the parasites are useful. Sometimes. They drive evolution. Since one of the things that is evolving is our code of ethics, I grit my teeth and let it happen. Sometimes.

Predators are natural too, but as in any ecosystem, they cannot be numerous. There are limits. Remove them, though, and something else evolves to be a predator. Change conditions and something similar can happen. The wonderful thing about us humans is that these role reversals can happen. When the mob shows up with a tumbrel, it is time for the predator to run.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | So if you simply took the wealth from 8 people you could double the wealth of half of the worlds population!!

I suppose you have a good plan for how to liquidate it and disburse the funds then? Seriously. Try it and the value of that wealth will plummet. SOMEONE HAS TO BUY IT to liquidate it for people who need it during a catastrophe. Hmm. Want to use it as collateral instead and avoid that? You’ll be printing money then and get to deal with the inflation. {sarcasm}Good plan. Inflate the currency after a huge disaster. {/sarcasm}

You are comparing apples to oranges. Or worse since both of those are edible.

If you tried to do this, you’d face a powerful economics lesson. The markets would respond in a dramatic way. If you think this is a good idea, you just don’t get it. The idea is to help people who suffer a catastrophe and deliver them back into a world that actually functions.

Also, the crap in those articles obviously isn't accounting for the value of human capital. Count only the stuff that Piketty counts and you'll have a very distorted view of things.

LarryHart said...

David S:

There are enough GOP in the house and senate to pass any legislation that requires a simple majority and haven't demonstrated much intent to reach across the isle and negotiate. (Look at the health bill as an example). I think is why the Dems are willing to use the debt limit to force the GOP to come to the table.

Sure, but what surprises me is that it can get Republicans to the table. Republicans used to not want to raise the debt ceiling. That's not just because the president was a Democrat. It was also because they want to shrink government. Back when Ted Cruz was leading the charge, a threat by Democrats not to raise the debt limit would have been met by "Bring it on!" It's interesting to watch Republicans realize that defaulting on the national debt would not end well. Hopefully, now we can get rid of the debt ceiling in concept.

The Dems I've spoken to about the debt ceiling think that it should be thrown out completely. They argue that when the legislature passes expenditures without passing a way to pay for it that they have agreed to go into debt to pay for it.

It used to be that way. The theory was called "deem and pass", and it meant that when Congress passed a budget, it was deemed to have accepted the level of debt inherent in that budget. Gingrich's 1995 Republicans put an end to that, specifically so that they could use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip.

But it never made sense for the debt ceiling to be a constraint on congress. My understanding is that it began when the country was ramping up for WWI. Congress knew there would be many new spending requirements for the war, and didn't want to have to micromanage each one, so they gave the president a limit and told him he was free to spend up to that limit on the war without having to make individual requests--kinda like a pre-approval for a mortgage. The intent was not to limit spending, but to allow spending up to that limit.

David Brin said...

Duncan & Alfred are both right. The world aristocracy has glommed onto way too high a proportion of world weath, but simply seizing it will do no one any good.

Far better to start by simply demanding "if you own something, say so! OR it goes into the pot." And "shell" entities like corporations or foundations can only go 34 deep and must terminate in either identified living persons, governments or charities.

1. 90% of people and property would come away unaffected, or else follow Hernando de Soto's advice and get their paperwork sorted out. Those of the rich who have been honest would be unaffected.

2. A great deal of illicit wealth (e.g. owned by drug kingpins or shells that have bought up most of Manhattan and London) would be abandoned,. This is very likely to erase all the public debt by all governments, worldwide, allowing substantial tax CUTS to law abiding citizens at all levels.

3. Some kingpins would use the go-around of vesting chunks of their property in poor people surrounding their estates... then "buying" the property at low, sweetheart rates. Such cheats can be limited. But in any event, there will be a new wealth transfer to poor families.

4. Conflicting claims of ownership will mean a side effect: the Golden Age of Lawyers.


Alfred, in the 1960s Leinster (I believe) had a story “First Contact” that set the tone of such though experiments. Eliezer Yudkowsly’s variant is brilliantly thought provoking…

…and it is about “baby eaters.”

Paul451 said...

Having grown up in a rural town, to parents who ran a town retail outlet, Loco's idea of "rural self-reliance" vs "urban dependence" is incredibly amusing. We depended utterly on daily deliveries from larger towns and especially from cities. If we got cut off from transport, we were out of stock within days. If we had a prolonged black-out, we were even more screwed. Generators provide only limited power, and it would be focused almost entirely of preserving refrigeration. Cut off our fuel deliveries, and it was game over.

Our region grew all the food? Sure. We grew a handful of key crops in massive quantities that were harvested once or twice per year in an insane/glorious rush. And we depended utterly on transport networks and urban processing centres to actually do anything with those crops. Almost all other food we brought in. Even the crops we grew, we didn't process. We grew wheat by the kilotonnes, but no-one locally made flour. The local bakery bought its flour from the same central processing plants that bought our wheat. There was a small local abattoir, and some farmers butchered their own animals, so meat wouldn't have been so bad. But we didn't have salt without, at minimum, statewide trade. (There are two salt-works in this state. One is near where I now live, at the edge of the capital city, the other is 90 minutes away. The town I lived in was six hours away from the nearest salt-works. By car. Or two-three weeks by horse and wagon, which you don't have.) And salt is easy, we wouldn't have sugar without national trade (all sugar-cane is grown in another state, about 3000km away. Market gardeners at the edge of the capital city can grow sugar-beets, but most of the state isn't really suitable.)

On a similar note, during the last major floods up north, a few years back, that state's capital city was flooded, but I recall most of the rescue effort was aimed at rural properties. Once cut off, they had nothing, even if the actually property itself was above the flood level. Whereas dry parts of the city and surrounds just carried on like nothing had happened.

It's likewise amusing to see Loco berate others for "living in the past" about cities, yet he is blind to his own delusions about rural dependencies. Modern farmers are not medieval farmers, they are utterly dependent on machines and fuel. Cut off the supply of fuel and farming stops. Not only is there no labour to work the fields manually, there is no compatible equipment any more. Likewise every input into the farm, from seeds, to fertiliser, to weather forecasts, is imported from outside the region. Likewise every output, processing and distribution to customers relies on urban-centric networks.

Interestingly, hobby farms are probably the best placed to survive a post-EMP world. Often they are more diversely planted, designed to give multiple small harvests throughout the year, of a manageable size for a family extended to medieval size by joining with friends, with a mix of animals types, with manual processing and storage and the associated equipment. [As I heard in a prepper video recently (from an active prepper), when asked who would best survive a post-EMP world, he answered "The Society for Creative Anachronism". They actively practice pre-industrial skills, they make their own clothes, they smelt their own metal. They understand how the tools work, how to make those tools, and how to pass on that knowledge.]

[[Aside: It's a common trope amongst preppers that they'll need to defend themselves from the hoards fleeing the cities. But actually, rural communities that do have enough diversity in crops, animals and industry and historical knowledge to survive without external supplies will still be desperate for labour.]]

David Brin said...

Argh... I meant "And "shell" entities like corporations or foundations can only go 3 deep and must terminate in either identified living persons, governments or charities."

The 3 deep limit has a great added effect. Many corporations are controlled by shells that own 40% of the company. The shell is controlled by another shell s that own 40% of the 1st shell. Go down 7 levels and a clever jerk can control a 100 Billion$ corp with very little skin in the game.

Jumper said...,34.00,1024

Interactive realtime world wind map

Paul451 said...

"And "shell" entities like corporations or foundations can only go 34 deep and must terminate in either identified living persons, governments or charities."

Most "charities" aren't charities. The current definition is weak to the point of worthlessness.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | I’ll side with you regarding Betsy De Vos. She has no business in the role to which she has been appointed. Our President is obviously bent on destroying the institutions to which he is appointing people, so I’m mildly relieved he hasn’t appointed all he can. In my own personal knowledge of the women I know, I am inclined to think the 25% assault number is a little low. Maybe 1:3. If one combines strong harassment and verbal assault, it is close to 3:4. So while I sympathize with men who are falsely accused, I think the wiser course for those of us who do NOT assault women is to document our lives.

I’m not that concerned with government destroying businesses. What they actually do is dictate market conditions and that leads to distortions that cause people to suffer needlessly. Causing this is immoral. I’ve seen this distortion up close. Americans would be in space in larger numbers if not for it. I see it daily in the work I do and I still don’t know what I can possibly do about it.

. We were okay with business doing its thing, but none of us were comfortable with how fast they wanted us to get out of their way.

Umm… really? Time is money. The money they pitch at a project costs money. I’m not going to side with them against science and other scholarly work very often, but I DO understand why they care. I can think of a half dozen other reasons why they would want to move quickly as well. In my second start-up, we were in a project with the guy behind CubeSats. We needed him and his students on the project for valid reasons. We needed a payload for our small rocket and we needed their reputation in order to attract the funding we sought. Things went moderately well for a while and then we came up against the fact that there is such a thing as ‘university time.’ It is a special clock that runs deathly slow in the summer and backward when seniors graduate and new students step into their research roles. We were DELAYED by them and damn near failed for political reasons because the money was already spent and people were twiddling their thumbs costing more for no good reason. We wound up failing for other reasons, so I’m not upset, but I haven’t forgotten. I was still enough of an academic to think things would work fine, but I got a snoot full of harsh lessons in that start-up.

Regarding McCloskey, I’ll understand if it takes a while. The ethical system is described in the first one (Bourgeois Virtues), so it is a lesson in virtue ethics for those of us who have not experienced on in a philosophy class or church setting. She makes the case that what we call ‘capitalism’ has an ethical system backing it. The second one (Bourgeois Dignity) focuses upon economic arguments against all the usual ideas people support for explaining why things are the way they are. She focuses upon the question ‘How did the world get rich and why?’, so this book is a long slog. The third one (Bourgeois Equality) delivers the punch line explanation that would be funnier if it weren’t so embarrassing in how we all know it and don’t know it at the same time. All of them are available in audiobook format now. She says the set runs 74 hours, though. Oof.

Finally, I hadn’t heard the term ‘Lexan Ceiling’ and went to look it up. I’m going to have to borrow that. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Shock horror - I agree with you!

Just dumping the wealth on the poor would be a bad idea!

But that was NOT what I was saying - I was arguing that the "Common Truth" that dividing the money up would simply make the rich poor without being enough to help the poor was NONSENSE!

As far as the "Human Capital" is concerned - the 0.1% contribute almost NOTHING - a few (very few) of them like Musk are actually contributing - 99% of them are simple parasites

How do we redistribute?
we do need to work on that - because if we don't the guillotines will come out and 80% of the wealth will be wasted in the fires

Some of the very wealthy seem to think that they can retreat to places like NZ when things go tits up
NOT a good idea - with all of the Scots and Maoris here - neither people well known for touching the forelock and saying - Yes Sir

Alfred Differ said...

Yah. I wouldn't include charities on that list either. They are corporations, but their owners are more easily identified. In the US, the tax-exempt ones are technically owned by all of us. The way to deal with charities is to list their relationships to each other and the real people who run them.

Making 'charities' more meaningful means separating management and donors. It's really tricky when one donor is an 800 lb gorilla. Been there, done that. My tenure as Chairman was short, but I did what had to be done. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Cool. My brief SCA experience might prove useful. 8)

If everything collapses, I plan to be one of the people who want to prop it back up again. Barring that, I'd prefer to be part of an HG band.

...and babies will be on the menu. Bwa-ha-ha!

Robert said...

Heyla Dr. Brin. I thought you might find this short science fiction story rather interesting. It's about the trial of humanity. And I think you'll like the story... including the ending.

Rob H.

donzelion said...

Alfred: Parasites have their place in an ecosystem, sure, but humans have no business trying to become parasites. When a business is parasitic, it trades on fraud, insider dealing, broken contracts, and similar 'tricks.'

We need parasites the same way we need thieves, murderers, and terrorists. Yes, thieves, murderers, and terrorists can 'make us stronger' - as will many things that do not kill us. But civilization exists despite them, not because of them. Indeed, civilization may be created in part to rein them in and stop them.

"This will sound cold-blooded, but one of the ways to measure the health of an ecosystem is by the variety and number of parasites that exist within it."
Fair enough, and it's quite true - we've developed much of our civilization in efforts to respond to and rein in parasitic conduct by other people. Law, property, writing itself -
so much came about because we know how a few will exploit others.

"Predators are natural too, but as in any ecosystem, they cannot be numerous."
I don't care for predatory conduct towards other humans, and frown at those who praise it, but I'll acknowledge that it has a place. The thing is, the mob can eradicate alpha predators; it tends to ignore more insidious parasites. Brown bears? Gone from most of the country (to the great harm to many ecosystems). Hookworm? Not quite.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

This will sound cold-blooded, but one of the ways to measure the health of an ecosystem is by the variety and number of parasites that exist within it.

So in a very healthy ecosystem, a decent "purple wage"--a guaranteed standard of living for people who are not needed as workers--would be a feature, not a bug. That doesn't sound cold-blooded at all. :)

I realize that's probably not what you meant, but I don't see how it fails to fit the criteria.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Uhhh... sorry, EMPs mimic flares, but flares don't mimic EMPs."

Two words: Carrington Event.

Monica Powell said...

Taking my time with the comments. That's my best part of this blog. I get more educated with 'em

locumranch said...

To argue that very rich oligarchs & aristocrats possess a vast amount of wealth is to commit a grotesque Category Error because they possess very little in actual 'wealth' in the form of consumable goods & services. Instead, what they possess are a vast amount of fiat currency, monies & promissory notes which are exchangeable for actual wealth ASSUMING business as usual.

The very rich can only be said to possess (as in 'own, grasp, hold, use') fractionally more wealth than the average first world citizen in terms of consumable goods & services as their hands & stomachs are as finite as the next citizen.

'Wealthy' is the term we use to describe an individual who possesses sufficient material goods & services to sustain himself & his family and, in this sense, the super rich can not be said to possess that much more than the average citizen.

Sure, the super rich could purchase (as in 'exchange monies for') additional material goods as they desire, but they could not be said to consume or possess more than one loaf of bread, one ham, one house, one bed or one car at one sitting, as all their accumulated monies & property certificates are mere promissory note representations of actual wealth rather than 'possessed wealth'.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the accepted role of rural red resources providers is to 'serve' the needs of others AND we will continue to do so as long our so-called 'service' is appropriately rewarded with the reciprocation of adequate material goods & services, so much so that it makes little difference to us if we 'serve' the interests of rich conservative oligarchs or self-important progressive cosmopolitan types.

Unfortunately for everyone, the rural red resource providers have received inadequate service reciprocation from all-of-the-above for many years now WHICH is why we encourage our children to flee to the cities every June so they may escape the poorly-reimbursed class obligations of the average (now aging) red rural resource provider who tires, retires & drops his burden.

Of course, those we serve think they can replace the aging red rural resource provider with other interchangeable labour units (mostly immigrant labour), but they are in for a rather rude awakening when their new Moorlock servants decide to 'serve' their new Eloi masters (in quite a different sense) with a side of fava beans & a nice chianti.


Paul SB said...


We all do - well, almost all of us, anyway. There's one here who doesn't seem to have learned anything since the McCarthy Era. But other than him and a couple less persistent bridge lurkers, there are a lot of real thinkers here, and decent human beings, which is a nice change from the usual state of the blogosphere. :]

Paul SB said...


RE: Parasites. You can learn about the health of an ecosystem by examining any trophic level, because they are all intertwined. Actual ecologists usually take one of two approaches, depending on how much money they have to work with. The used 1980s VW plan is to monitor the top carnivores, the highest level of the energy pyramid. This is what happens most often, because even though science is what makes the world go around, we seem to prioritize it disproportionately low. The Cadillac version is the start at the bottom of the pyramid with the primary producers and work up, making a full assay.

But economies are not really ecosystems. That's just a metaphor, and like all metaphors it's imperfect. By definition is a parasite is a different species from those they parasitize, but last I checked bankers and brokers were the same race as their victims. Also, the goal of parasites is to keep their hosts alive so they can continue to suck resources from them. The CEO cast are generally not smart enough to do this. They tend to economically destroy the people they feed off, partly because of their short-term ROI thinking, but also because they see themselves as greatly superior to those they grind under their heels (our moronic faux rancher seems to think it is the country folk who bear the burden of this activity, and blames the parasites' victims for parasitizing his imaginary rural übermensch, while consistently voting the most parasitical into power). That mentality of superiority - something that does not exist in an ecosystem - drives behaviors that you will never see in an actual ecosystem. Actual ecosystems generally reach a point of stable dynamic homeostasis, but this is a rarity for economies. ideologies and cultural variables (non-existent in ecosystems) drive economies that have to change constantly to stave off the disasters that constantly loom over systems that change so frequently and often with little guidance or deeply flawed guidance. And there we have another way in which the ecosystem analogy breaks down. Ecology has no guidance, it simple evolves by natural, impersonal processes. But economies are always guided to some extent, by large or small numbers of self-deluded hominids, by more or less integrated self-deluded hominids, more or less variable self-deluded hominids. Either way, the analogy breaks down in some very important ways. Economies are not the headless beasts that ecologies are. Some are monsters with thousand son heads, others have just a few, but they all have heads of varying quality.

Needless to say, ecological analogies are heuristics that are often more misleading than useful. The same goes for evolutionary analogies. There are some useful similarities, but overall there are too many differences to make either analogy useful except at a very superficial level.

Paul SB said...

"... typical of Leftie Stalinist hypocrites who have slaughtered millions to save a few thousands..."

Okay, let's have a show of hands. Who here is a Stalinist?



That's about what I thought.

This flunky doesn't seem to know what century he is operating in. He doesn't even seem to get that the McCarthy Era that seems to inform his prejudices ended with the revelation that there never were (Heinz) 57 communists in the State Department. There never were any. This is just his usual "Four legs good, two legs baaaaaaad!" rant. There might still be a few die-hard Stalinists in Russia, withering in their dotage while they recall the glory days of the Soviet Union, when the leadership was only mildly less dysfunctional than it is today. Not around here. Even school kids know Stalin is no figure to emulate. But this is coming from a person who calls us both Fascists and Communists in the same post, too thick to have a clue how self-contradictory his self-delusion is. Then he goes on to his often-repeated non-sequitur that money is actually meaningless, so the petty tyrants he supports don't really have any more power than the impoverished urbanites they squeeze the life out of every working day.

Every time he goes on a rant like this people shoot down virtually every ridiculous claim he makes. He ignores nearly all of it, latching on to anything someone writes that he thinks he can twist logic sufficiently to ridicule. Then he gets smacked down for the stupidity of these feeble attempts, so he waits a few days and starts the cycle again. Pitiful!

Lorraine said...

Wow, I'm not the only person who remembers Dark Angel. It was a Canadian production, and of course Canadian propaganda, but I loved how escape to Canada (and freedom) was such a recurring theme.

Also, the concept of "sector passes" was prescient. At the time (1999-ish) I thought of it as a comment on the pass laws in apartheid-era South Africa. But that, too, can happen here. The idea of travel, or even mobility, as privilege rather than a right. First it's no-fly lists, at some point no-get-on-the-local-bus lists, at some point sector passes.

That, and another Fox network treasure of the immediate pre-9/11 era, Lone Gunmen. Talk about life imitates art. There will never be anything like either of those on TV again.

Jumper said...

How the rich see themselves.

David Brin said...

Again and again lickspittle Locum parrots rationalizations and justifications for his yes Massa lords, who cannot do any harm, in his eyes. They own everything… but… but they don’t REALLY own anything that they don’t consume in any day. The rest is just on paper! The “paper’ and influence they use to bribe officials, distort laws, evict tenants, shift billions into Cayman shelters, shift millions of jobs… don’t pay any attention to that! My lord is consuming the same number of calories as you do! SO stop picking on his super-duper-rich ass.

Ignore that fact that feudal lordship led to crappy governance in 99% of societies, cruelty, psychosis and stupidity. We only began to break out into the light when we managed to get a leash on that foul human tendency. But go ahead and rationalize, you crawling-mewling kowtowing slave of plantation lords.

David Brin said...

Oh, none of those billions have any unfair effects! Like the hundreds of billions these lords have spent on propaganda, turning folks like Locumranch into marching dittoheads, chanting whatever the propaganda tells them to chant.

David Brin said...