Saturday, February 10, 2018

Correlation, causation and precaution. Dismal logic underlying the Wars on Science.

Lisa Pryor, a medical doctor, gives cogent and articulate insight into “the online world of alternative-health practitioners, wellness bloggers, whole-food chefs and Gwyneth Paltrow.” While the roots of such impudence are healthy - individualism and traditions of Suspicion of Authority - these reflexes are exploited by charlatans and/or the gullible (my words, not hers.) 

We'' get back to medical fads and all that, toward the end. But let's get general, first. We can have impudent individualism without waging war on all of the "elite" fact-professions, filled with folks whose only major crime is knowing a lot, being real smart and caring.

Let's zoom in upon a weapon that’s often deployed in this war – a phrase that in itself offers wisdom, but that's been turned into a magical spell, cast against the very professions who taught it.

“Correlation is not the same as causation.”

This is a core catechism that's drilled into most of us scientists, along with “I might be wrong,” and “build your competitive science rep by demolishing the half-baked work of those bums at MIT.”

Alas, “Correlation is not the same as causation” has become an incantation parroted by Fox News and others campaigning to undermine science by -- in effect -- claiming that nothing can ever be proved. (See also, below two other incantations that will be very familiar to you.)

 In fact, sifting for correlations is how experimental science begins. A strong correlation demands: “hey, check this out!” 

But it’s more than that. A strong correlation shifts the Burden of Proof. When we see a strong correlation, and especially when the matter at-hand might have health or safety or security implications, then we are behooved to at least begin taking preliminary precautions, in case the correlation proves to be causative. 

Sometimes the correlation is later demonstrated not to be causal and a little money has been wasted on unneeded precautions. But this often proves worthwhile, given long lead times in technology.  Example, we were fortunate that work had already begun on alternative refrigerants to CFCs, when their role in ozone damage was finally proved.

Another example: terrorism experts sift for correlations and apply intelligence resources to follow up, while giving potential targets cautious warnings. Many correlations don't pan out. But a burden falls on those saying "ignore that."

Getting specific in regards the Climate Denialist Cult: if they were sincere, they would say: "We have doubts that (pick your shifting goal post) there's any warming, or that humans cause it, or that a warmer Earth wouldn't be better! But, let's fund vigorous R&D in sustainable energy and climate science, just in case 99% of the folks who have studied the atmosphere turn out to be right, after all." Those who say this may be the real article, genuine skeptics. Like Berkeley's Richard Muller.

This approach becomes even more obvious when you realize that many climate related R&D endeavors are TWODA -- or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway. Like ensuring that citizens can buy more efficient cars, heaters, homes and lights, saving gobs of money now going to legacy-carbon companies. (Gee, I wonder who would hate to see that?) 

Alas, the vast majority of denialists do not take this approach -- agreeing on general precautions, just in case the experts prove right. Instead, they are led to declare that nothing should be done, until the danger is proved, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Who... pray tell... what sane person does that?

== Another incantation: Scientific Consensus ==

Parse this carefully as I repeat it. The statement: “Correlation is not the same as causation” is a central wisdom of science.

Those who spout this incantation aren't all fools, but you can separate them out with a simple test. Do they follow “Correlation is not the same as causation" with... curiosity? With acceptance of both precaution and burden of proof? Those who do that are "Skeptics" and welcome to the grand, competitive tussle known as science. 

Those who use the Correlation Gambit as a magic incantation to forestall any precautions are generally the same folks -- across some of today's far-left and most of today's entire-right -- who now dismiss all fact-using professions.  They would hold a lit match in one hand and an open gas can in the other, shouting "one has nothing to do with the other!"

Here's another such magical spell: "There's no such thing as Scientific Consensus."  

Again, at root, it is based upon a truth that's common wisdom. Objective reality -- physical nature -- does now bow down to majority rule or commonly accepted prejudice. There have been many times when the high priesthood proved wrong and a few dissenters proved more accurate than what "everyone believes." Science helped us find ways to be right a whole lot more often; yet, still, there are occasions -- e.g. atomic theory, relativity and quantum mechanics -- when the impudent newcomers toppled the paradigm.

But again, a truth gets turned into a truism... and then a lie. Because most scientists aren't sniveling, conformist, grant-hugging lemmings, crowding slavishly around orthodoxy. That's what we rebelled against! And that theme of rebellious questioning was taught to this rambunctious society by science. Indeed, scientists tend to be among the most competitive humans our species ever produced.

We do not worship "truths." We create models of the world. And those models change, being battered and tested and chopped at again and again, by eager young post-docs seeking to make a reputation. Rarely, a model gets replaced. Usually, it gets improved, as the false 5% gets replaced. Then 1% ... then 0.01%.

And yes, that can look like "consensus," because Bernoulli's Equation and the Navier Stokes laws don't change. And our climate models have transformed the old joke of a 4-hour "weather report" into a ten day miracle. And yes, the geniuses who did that - and who have modeled climate on six planets - know more about climate than Fox bozos serving as shills for coal lords, ptro boyars and oil sheiks.

See my earlier long list of examples where this and other incantations delayed the proper application of science to public policy, leading to hundreds of thousands… maybe millions… of deaths.

== Another version... same insanity ==

This is the worst incantation of all. Reprising an earlier posting on this: We all know that:

"Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that doesn't automatically make them wise."

It's true. So true we all take it as a given. 

But in the same way that Suspicion of Authority is wholesome, till it metastasizes, this true statement has been twisted into something cancerous:

"Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically unwise."

Again, the first statement is true and we all know it.  The second is so insanely wrong that anyone believing it is hence, clearly, a jibbering loony! And yet, left implicit and never said aloud, the latter is now a core catechism of the revived Confederacy.

Of course, on average, persons who have studied earnestly and tried to understand will tend to be wiser than those who deliberately chose to remain incurious and ignorant. When cornered, all but the most vehement alt-righter will admit that. But cornering them takes effort and - above all - careful parsing of the meme. It is a logical corner they’ve painted themselves into -- but memes are slippery.

Hatred of people with knowledge and skill now extends from the war on science to journalism, teaching, medicine, economics, civil servants… and lately the “deep state” villains of the FBI, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps.  Indeed, there are rising calls for a cleansing, or even abolishment, of universities, under the smugly-contemptuous argument that your average young person is too easily brainwashed by leftist propaganda to be trusted with knowledge. 

Next, one presumes, could be the book-burning "simpleton" mobs of Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Liebowitz."

This is bedlam, and it serves one purpose: to discredit any “elites” who might stand in the way of a return to feudalism, the pattern of 6000 years that America rebelled against.

== Suspicion of Science  ==

This is an ecumenical madness. In the War on Science, only the biggest and most numerous guns are firing from the right. We've also -- elsewhere -- looked at relentless attacks upon fact-users by lefty postmodernists. Then there are transcendentalists pushing everything from End Times Dominionism to UFOs to psychic phenomena. Here's a site hauling more sludge from that "psi-telepathy" well, pouring resentment at the rigid, conformity-enforcing, unimaginative and incurious scientific 'establishment.'

To which I respond: Hey, I have psi stuff in some of my novels! Maybe the dreams will come true, when we get amplifiers. (As depicted in my story "Stones of Significance" or my novel Kiln People.) But right now, I got better things to do than participate in the howling mob descending from all directions (though especially the mad right) upon the one tool we ever had for parsing truth from eager delusion. The thing that enabled our brief enlightenment experiment to outperform all other societies, combined.

For starters, there is a word for 'alternative medicine' that has been verified by science. That word is "medicine." Vast numbers of pharmaceuticals had their roots in herbal lore. Acupuncture is not yet understood, but its effectiveness at relieving a range of subjective symptoms is undeniable and few still try. No stodgy priesthood blocks that remedy.

Likewise, a few "psychic" powers are undeniable... e.g. savant capabilities displayed by some autistics and others. (I depict some of these skills vastly tech-amplified, in Existence.) Hence the accusation that scientists are pigheaded and obstinate - while often 
true in specific individuals - is an assertion that doesn't hold up, especially under the passage of time. 

And time is what the psi/paranormal folks have had tons of! Thousands of years in ashrams and monasteries and hovels. And 150 years of eager funding by rich patrons like Arthur Conan-Doyle and the Remingtons.

Just like UFOs and cold fusion and M Drives, it's not just that "proofs" shrivel when closely examined. Far bigger is the problem that their phenomena never scale-up! When a phenomenon is vaguely at the edge of detection, then hard work and money should result not in bringing it barely into range, but bringing it hugely and blatantly into focus.

Gravitational lensing was weird and iffy. But applying a little work and money and curiosity transformed a barely detectable phenomenon into one that is practical. Astronomers now routinely use whole galaxies as lenses to scrutinize far quasars beyond them, deep in the past. Within one year(!) gravitational waves shifted from barely discovered to being scientific instruments. Two decades after the Wright Brothers, a man flew New York to Paris.

Every year the number of cameras on Earth doubles! So how do those UFOs always stay just perfectly fuzzy? See my story "Those Eyes" about a possible explanation.

If a century of 'study' leaves you still unable to offer anything but glimmers that can't be verified, stop blaming the skeptics and get to work on your amplifiers.

Our conclusion: You -- and yes, you -- are needed in this fight against darkness. Ingrates who were fed and clothed and cured and entertained by sci-tech and the skilled professions now use an internet tool that they were given virtually for free, along with almost every other gift of the enlightenment, to rage against all the smartypants. Those who rose up from the bullied nerds in Junior High to wealth and honors that used to be reserved for warriors, knights, lords... and sports or movie stars.

Those who are subsidizing this campaign -- the re-ignition of phase 8 of the American Civil War -- clearly think they will be the last elite left standing. But they are waging all-out war upon all the folks who know how robots work, and artificial intelligence and genetic engineering and nuclear science. Seriously? How do you expect that to go for you?

We cannot wait around for the oligarchs to slap their foreheads in realization: "what have we done?"  The only real solution is to wake up our neighbors, one at a time.  I hope you can use some of the tools presented in today's lesson.


Anonymous said...

I think that this scientific research that they have just published has to do with the current topic:


Tony Fisk said...

In response to the resident's recently expressed wish for adulation, I recalled this amusing/horrific passage from "The Gulag Archipelago". It's where the war on reason leads:

Here is one vignette from those years as it actually occurred. A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with "stormy applause, rising to an
ovation." For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the "stormy applause, rising to an ovation," continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be \hQ first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on — six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn't stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly — but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter. . . . Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took
place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

"Don't ever be the first to stop applauding!"

[Told me by N. G ko.]

(And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to stop?)

Now that's what Darwin's natural selection is. And that's also how to grind people down with stupidity.

- A. Solzhenitsyn

Zepp Jamieson said...

Tony: I just used the exact same Solzhenitsyn passage in the Guardian in response to Trump's claim that Democrats who didn't applaud him were traitors. And Facebook. Oddly enough, the Trumpkins didn't come after me. I also quoted from Joseph Heller, when Schisskopff is promoted to General, in 'Catch-22'. ("He wants us to march. He wants ALL OF US to march!"
Doctor, there was on element to the anti-science, anti-authoritarian streak in American, and that stems from the fiction. The protagonist must fight not only the effects of the McGuffin, but the people promoting said McGuffin: mad scientists, star-struck generals (sorry), hidebound bureaucrats, and so on. Usually it just stems from a desire to write an interesting story, but the overall effect on the body politic over a century is a distrust of authority. A good writer will give the authority figure(s) a solid rationale, perhaps not evident to the protagonist. The villain is always a villain in his own eyes. But a lot of popular fiction is too lazy and inept for that distinction to crawl in. This is particularly true in movies.

Paul SB said...


I posted this in the last thread, but was being distracted by my offspring and by the time I hit submit our coast had already given the Onward.

Nations can't be mentally ill because they are not people. But nations are quite capable of creating conditions that either exacerbate or assuage. If you look at the rates quoted by our Fake Ranch, it sounds really bad, but he isn't giving you the whole truth. Mental illness is seen at nearly double our rates in third world countries. All those happy, non-WEIRD farmers and ranchers of the world are doing much worse because they are living under the stresses of eking out a sub-subsistence existence where the slightest disruption in the weather can cause mass starvation, migration and civil war. Compare the US to other First World countries and you find that the US is at the bottom of the barrel. We would all be in much better shape in most parts of Europe, excepting (interestingly enough) the UK and Holland. Aside from Holland, all the First World countries that have high rates of mental illness are English-speaking countries - Canada, Australia, New Zealand. The more Germanic, Scandinavian, Francophone & Spanish parts of Europe fare far better. These, of course, are places that American conservatives would consider to be evil socialist dictatorships, even WEIRDER than blue America.

So why is it the Anglophone countries are performing so badly compared to other First World countries? Take a moment to think about what makes people go crazy in Third World countries and it isn't that hard to make a connection. In the countries that have the lowest rates of mental illness have the most robust social safety nets. You won't see a lot of people starving in the streets of Stockholm. In the couple weeks I spent in Greece ages ago I saw one person begging in the streets. Here a day doesn't go by that I don't see dozens upon dozens. The other major difference is that the gap between rich and poor in most socialized countries is not the same vast chasm as it is here, where a handful of families own most of the country while millions don't even have a roof over their heads and are blamed for their own poverty. The Anglophone cultures have a certain "winner take all" mentality that makes all this mental illness happen. Anglophone cultures are into cut-throat competition, trying to reduce humans to something less than human, mere beasts under the law of the jungle.

Anonymous said...

If it is not convenient that Donald Trump be shot down, because the Republicans would make someone worse ... ¿So, is an advertising campaign against the actions of the Republican party required? ¿Would it be worth pointing out the treason crimes of those leaders? Showing these reasons on a huge scale? ¿Could Democratic leaders launch a national awareness campaign that explains to Americans all the reasons why it is evident that Republicans have betrayed the nation? Well, it was certainly with publicity of lies on the internet that the American people were deceived. (in addition to fraud with vote counting machines) Can the Democratic Party match the advertising capacity of the Republicans? Of course, unlike the Republicans. We do not need to lie Only the means to reach more Americans with the message are required. It is necessary to have the capacity to pass the propaganda apparatus of the republican party.
It is no longer a matter of malice. It's a matter of doing the right thing.
(I hope the translation is understood) (yes, I must learn English, I know.)


locumranch said...

Of course, David's "Correlation does not have to be proved in order to act" argument applies equally well to Treebeard's theory (and Trump's theory, too), and we are therefore compelled to ACT immediately to prevent the theorized destruction of the West by building the Wall, deporting all immigrants, bringing our armed forces home from the shite-hole outlands & abandoning our failed policy of globalism.

This is the failed Roman pattern that the West currently follows wherein our comfortable over-fed citizens refuse to labour, breed, feed or defend themselves, preferring to pursue personal immortality options while relying on outsourcing, non-native slave labour & underpaid mercenaries to do all of those earthy activities of daily living that these proud urbanites refuse to do, leading ultimately to the passage of Rome's preposterous Julian Marriage Laws (which will fail here as they did in Rome), leaving the West ineffective & functionally extinct as a political force, nation & race, except that our end will come much faster because of a majority Christian philosophy that romanticizes self-abnegation, personal sacrifice & individual martyrdom for the good of an ill-defined heavenly collective.

This is what both the Pax America and Star_Trek model are all about, no?? A heroic crew of various right-minded mixed ethnicities sacrificing their personal life & limb for the benefit of ungrateful alien races and/or an unfounded government abstraction called 'The Federation'.

Huzzah!! We have been freed from the Tyranny of Causality by David, the Great Man of SCIENCE, and now we may act decisively because of random theoretical correlation between everything & anything, from unconfirmed climate change theory to exclusionary identity politic prejudices.

We are now free to act on correlations alone.

I christen David's new argument the 'Footloose Principle' as it justifies prohibitions on dancing because dancing correlates with drink driving, as much as ice cream consumption correlates with drowning. Where is the Great Dance Warrior Kevin Bacon to lead us in our time of need? And who will help us 'cut loose' if not for him?

David Brin said...

Gawd what a maroon.... but it's the frantic incuriosity that is so sad. Much more sad than the illogic.

Anonymous said...

Paul SB:
I suppose that in almost all the great stories of fantasy and science fiction, social inequality is the catalyst that throws the hero into adventure. For example: "Star Wars" by George Lucas; and "The Postman", by David Brin.
Those stories please everyone because at the bottom of everyone's soul, there is always a desire to improve everything. (the villains also have the desire to improve everything, but only for themselves).
Each nation has different degrees of problems, but behind each terrible situation, there are always villains. There are, and many. And they are very organized. That is why it is so difficult to bring peace and justice to the world. The heroes are few. The villains almost always have great power. Heroes will always be needed, (in real life) because villains will always exist.


Tony Fisk said...

*sigh* There are tools to determine how likely correlation is causation. Degree of correlation is open to interpretation, but > 95% is usually considered sufficient to require dissenting opinions to have a good counter argument.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

The villain is always a villain in his own eyes. But a lot of popular fiction is too lazy and inept for that distinction to crawl in. This is particularly true in movies.

Pardon me if I presume that you meant "A villain is always a hero in his own eyes." Otherwise, this won't make sense.

I remember on one of many re-readings of Brave New World noticing the passage--one of the early chapters--in which Mustapha Mond talks in detail about why he does what he does. I don't have the book in front of me, but essentially the world population has grown so much since the Industrial Revolution began ("the wheels began turning") that the continued and ever more efficient functioning of machinery is necessary for the survival of billions.

Coincidentally, my daughter is just now reading BNW in high school (she loves it, by the way). We've discussed how many of the elements of the book have actually come to pass, and also how many elements were probably more shocking to readers in the 1930s than they are today. But I also made sure to point out that chapter to her and to warn her to really pay attention to what it is showing.

LarryHart said...

It's Black History Month right now, and the Winter Olympics also just started. As it turns out, both occasions are affording excellent opportunities to stir Donald Trump's base up into a frenzy, not unlike when NFL players kneel during the national anthem. Leading the way are Breitbart and Fox News, affording everyone a reminder of how base tribalism has always been one of their keys to success.
These stories are not that unusual for those two sites, though they are a bit on the "over the top" side for them. In any event, it's a useful reminder that when Donald Trump attacks "ungrateful" NFL players, or downplays white supremacist violence at Charlottesville, or slurs Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as Pocahontas, he most certainly does have his finger on the pulse of a sizable segment of the American public.

Didn't Robespierre had his finger on the pulse of a sizable segment of the French public while he was guillotining everyone in sight? Right up until the moment the frenzy was turned on him? Also, remember the Bernie Bros essentially purging Bernie from their ranks after he endorsed Hillary, insisting that Bernie wasn't Bernie enough for them?

Maybe that's the way out of this--when the moment comes when Trump is not sufficiently Trump enough for the Trumpists, or when they actually determine that Trump is a traitor to Trumpism.

madtom said...

Countermemes needed, like






but that's about my 3am limit - show me up with lots of better ones, please!

madtom said...


(and now back to bed -still 3 hours to sunrise!)

Paul SB said...


I once considered renting a huge billboard and painting a picture on it of Darwin ascending into Heaven accompanied by whale angels playing harps and cheering Neanderthal fans, just to mess with people. Fight meme with meme. I would suggest a change to your last one, though. Know Thyself - or Be Ripped Off by Those Who Do. or how about The Rich Love Racism - It Keeps Us from Challenging Them.

Paul SB said...

This villain in their own eyes talk reminds me of a tasteless, low-class anime I saw once. The mad scientist villain at once point took a break from villainy to get a massage, but before he started he pushed a button on some machine, and it started playing his own theme song. It was in the same vein as the old Batman theme, just his name sung over and over again. It was the only memorable thing in the whole movie - a villain so evil he had his own theme song made for him. I wonder if President Grope changed his tune once he became the most powerful(ly hated) man in the nation?

There are villain who think of themselves as villains. There is a gang in LA that calls itself the AWC, which stands for Assholes with Candy. It's quite common among the poor, powerless and disenfranchised to decide that all things main stream must be bad if it results in them being treated like second-class citizens. Thus all the gangsta rap, Norteño music and satanic rock (in the old days) with all their violent and hateful themes. Psychologists call this having a negative identity complex.

Obviously the vast majority of people are neither villains nor heroes - at least not consistently. Most people are just trying to live the best lives that they can, and in humans that always means having some code of conduct or set of ideals they try to live yup to. What those codes involve are different for different social groups. Gangsters would not consider the old Thou Shalt Not Kill part of their code, but betraying their crew is a cardinal sin. The executive caste might be reluctant to kill people directly, like spraying a crowd with bullets, but they have no problem selling tainted medicine that kills people who are, in their worldview, stupid enough to buy their tainted medicine. In the minds of the loyal gangster who murders and rapes with impunity, he's a hero to his community. In the mind of corporate executives they are heroes if they can rip off the masses and laugh to the bank with everyone else's money. So it's kind of a relative thing. Most people think they are heroes. Personally, I would have all of them shot, but since I'm not God I know that's not going to happen. : [

Paul SB said...


Now I'm going to have to reread BNW again. You know Mustafa Mond was right, but did you also notice what his last name means? Mouth. It's been so long since I read the book I can't recall what I thought of that character at the time, and I've only read it once. Recently I've been tempted by James Joyce, so I'm not holding my breath. Great that you discuss these things with your daughter.

Your Robespierre comment is on the dot. Every society has its factions, and when those factions start intensifying the competition between them (like loping their enemies' heads off) they very easily turn into a self-consuming frenzy. It's possible the Grope might get the meat-hook treatment, but I hope it won't come to that, because the collateral damage is likely to be heinous.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I once considered renting a huge billboard and painting a picture on it of Darwin ascending into Heaven accompanied by whale angels playing harps and cheering Neanderthal fans, just to mess with people. Fight meme with meme.

I've heard the story multiple times--maybe here on this blog--that upon Isaac Asimov's death, he was succeeded by Kurt Vonnegut as the head of the American Humanist Society (or a name very close to that). According to the story, Vonnegut began Asimov's eulogy by intoning, "Isaac is in heaven now." The way I heard it told, he brought the house down.

locumranch said...


Like the correlations between days hospitalised and poor health, fossil fuel consumption and economic prosperity, unrestricted immigration and low wages, higher education and functional sterility, political identity and urbanization, gender merit and the Uber wage gap, and race and IQ, crime, single parenting & poverty.

"Correlations demand ACTIONS", says David, "especially TWODA".

Thus, one would expect that that both Madtom & David would support hospital elimination as a means to ensure public health, willy-nilly fossil fuel consumption as the means to economic prosperity, immigration restrictions as the means to increase the average wage, university closures as the means to reverse demographic decline, forced relocation as the means to elimination political partisanship, gender difference acceptance as related to the wage gap, and racial distinction recognition as related to intelligence, criminality, single parenting & the resulting poverty.

Or, at the very least, DEMAND INVESTIGATION.

No so, though, as they both assume the eyes closed, ears covered & mouth sealed posture of the proverbial Three Monkeys, much in the same way that Paul_SB disparages "gangsta rap, Norteño music and satanic rock (for all of their overtly ethnic) violent and hateful themes" but prefers to scapegoat causality on to rich heartless "corporate executives", even though those TWODA actions listed above are perhaps more justifiable than those loosely correlated associations that they use to justify those irrationally TWODA actions that they prefer.

I guess correlations only justify politically progressive actions but NOT conservative ones.


LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

There are villain who think of themselves as villains.

Yes, I just didn't think that was the point Zepp was making. A different thing, in fact the opposite thing.

In the old days, I used to understand that in the non-fictional world, everyone thought they were the good guys. But then I saw the likes of ISIS and Boku Haram and others of that ilk who seem to actually revel in their cartoon supervillainy. Dr Brin's Holnists seem much more three-dimensional than these real life deplorables.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

It's possible the Grope might get the meat-hook treatment, but I hope it won't come to that,...

You're a more generous man than I am.

Jon S. said...

I don't remember who said it, but I thought it was a great restatement of the "correlation" concept.

"Correlation does not equal causation - but it does wink while nodding meaningfully in causation's general direction."

madtom said...

locumranch was dead right when he said:


Like the correlations between days hospitalised and poor health, fossil fuel consumption and economic prosperity, unrestricted immigration and low wages, higher education and functional sterility, political identity and urbanization, gender merit and the Uber wage gap, and race and IQ, crime, single parenting & poverty.

But dead wrong from then on, because he cherry-picked the kind of bad mistakes people make when they stop investigating prematurely and take action on incomplete information.


Larry C. Lyons said...

Everything is correlation. Ever derived an ANOVA or a t-test, or other parametric statistic? It all breaks down to regression coefficients which in turn breaks down to a set of correlations. Only difference is that you are essentially setting up a dummy variable or two for the control conditions. The correlation between those variables and your dependent variables tells you the causal relationship. As a scientist you need to look at validity threats. Here are some good summaries:

What you want to do is control these threats to validity, THEN you can actually make legit conclusions about the correlation.

What Faux News and similar groups do is stop at the Correlation is not causation mantra and go no further. A scientist ought to look far beyond that, eliminate the alternative explanations and threats to validity. What is left is the causal relationship even though you may have measured it by a correlation.

Paul SB said...


The comic book super villains of ISIS are really not that uncommon throughout human history, it's just that modern communications technology thrusts their atrocities in our faces much more so than in the past. But the negative identity complex goes a lot further than named terrorist groups or street gangs. It starts as people being the heroes of their own stories. If you belong to an ethnic group that is treated as a structural inferior, you are likely to reject the mainstream values of the dominant ethnic group. Why do so many African Americans call themselves by the same word that was used to denigrate them for centuries? Being against the mainstream is a badge of pride for structural inferiors. But when you play that game there will always be pressure to take it to extremes. I have sympathy for the average downcast minority anywhere, but for those individuals who go to the extremes of Boko Haram I can only feel disgust.

"You're a more generous man than I am."
- No, actually I am quite vindictive and would love to see that sack hanging up on a meat hook, but not if it ends pogroms. He is doing his best to screw the people of America (well, 90% anyway, the ones he labels "losers" including most of his supporters). I'm not sure the bloodshed would be worth it, though if nothing is done to reverse the trend Reagan started back in '86 it is hard to imagine it ending peacefully.

locumranch said...

You said a mouthful about 'FOOLS AND TOOLS', Madtom, so tell us why progressives only consider progressive solutions & explanations to those problematic realities that have so MANY CAUSES as well as a near infinite array of potential solutions, while the progressive solution is merely a 'doubling down' on more of the same.

The progressive tells us that law breakage is best resolved by the passage of additional laws, declining morals are best resolved by a decline in morals, diversity problems are best resolved by an increase in diversity, public debt is best resolved by an exponential increase in public debt and problems associated with big government are best resolved by even bigger government.

This mad unreasonable circularity has got to stop, sooner or later, as lies only create more lies, hate only creates more hate & identity politics only creates more identity politics.

"Everything is correlation", say Larry_L, and the chance for peaceful resolution becomes more unlikely with every passing day.


madtom said...

locumranch, thanks for your excellent illustration of "oversimplify", with your characterization of "progressives" and what they would do or think.

Anyone who believes your first two paragraphs really does need to go on looking for more connections with reality, rather than relying on the cartoon visions that so many fool themselves with, and so many bad actors fool their victims with.

"Mad unreasonable circularity" is a nice phrase (I usually say "uncontrolled positive feedback"), and I wonder why you seem to enjoy being an active part of the process you describe so well in that sentence.

Alfred Differ said...

Correlation is not causation. She is the woman in the slinky red dress (for us hetero males) that tempts us to look again and pursue. If she doesn’t, either there is a good reason to avoid her or one might benefit from some medical attention.

Complexity is not always reducible. She is the one in the slinky black dress often found with Correlation and she should be just as tempting.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | It's a complicated world, hmm?

One of my doctors made it very clear I was to steer clear of the ER while was on a chemo-drug if I could possibly help it. They started into an explanation of super-bugs, compromised immune systems, and all that, but I was adding to it as they went. We just nodded at each other and moved on to the next subject.

I'm alive because I had access to a hospital and I'm alive because I avoided them. The trick was to know WHEN to take the risks and that's part of what I'm buying when I pay them.

You know this, though. You've been there. Some of us listen. Some don't. What I'm having a hard time comprehending is why you think the progressives are so stupid that they can't comprehend it too. Some do. Some don't. The ones around here are pretty smart, though, so they find your broad brush rather insulting.

David Brin said...

Guys, he made a mistake. This time he is clearly being satirical.

Susan Watson said...

You posit that the anti-science lot subscribe to the truth-twisting-aphorism "Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically unwise."

I hear them say something different, more like "Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically shaming me in my ignorance." To discredit science is to reclaim their own dignity, especially for those who found their pride on religious claims.

We talk a lot about hate and kindness and love, but shame is also very powerful and deserves consideration. Those who try to be politically correct know that to shame another human is to excite their immediate and vigorous hostility. You have lost the ability to persuade and, perhaps, placed yourself in danger.

You claim that "...scientists tend to be among the most competitive humans our species ever produced". Have you met the Scotch-Irish neo-Confederates of North Carolina?

David Brin said...

Paul I believe Mustafa Mond means master of the world.

David Brin said...

Good comment on shame, Susan Watson. But -- "Have you met the Scotch-Irish neo-Confederates of North Carolina? "

Sure. They saved the Revolution at King's Mountain... then betrayed it by flocking to defend their oppressor plantation lords' right to feudal power, and have done so ever since. Those who are truly competitive move to where they can entrepreneur.

Susan Watson said...

"Those who are truly competitive move to where they can entrepreneur."

Very true. But entrepeneurial or not, most urban-dwellers are only a few generations removed from the countryside themselves.

My father grew up on a farm, but he wasn't the oldest son, or the second oldest or even the third oldest. My g-g-g-grandfather came from Scotland and had eight sons. There has been a constant migration from countryside to town for a thousand years.

But if the left-behind are unwilling to move, we should bring choice to them. Improved roads, decent schools, a medical clinic not too far away, steady electricity and internet access should be all it takes now to enable business without even having to leave home.

I still don't know why offering those things to our cousins with blue-state tax dollars should be so offensive to them; They do not see us as cousins and think it's a trick, but even so ...

Americans do Liberty really well, but do fall down on Equality and Fraternity, I'm afraid.

Paul SB said...

"Paul I believe Mustafa Mond means master of the world."
- I must have been thinking in the wrong language...

Susan, I would agree that rural areas should have the same services and effectively the same quality of life as towns and cities, but because of transportation and scale it has not been very feasible. I had an employer ages ago who used to tell me about driving a bookmobile through rural communities for a few years. She was an urbanite to the core - could not have lived in a place without an active opera house, but the joy it brought her bringing books to kids who saw far too little of them in their homes was an experience that stayed with her for decades.

Increasing technology will make it possible for the inequalities between city and country even out, but the possibility won't happen as long as we still live in a throwback social system that treats "equality" with suspicion. The whole "equal outcomes" thing is just a canard. Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" was a farce, not a warning. I read that one in school and it was obviously so ridiculous it was hard to say whether it was more insulting to the levelers or to the fools who fear them. But there were those who read it as a "Big Brother" story, which only shows their inability think outside the painfully obvious.You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him think. Oversized amygdalae aren't genetic, they are the self-fulfilling result of a feedback loop between paranoid people and the children they raise.

If we ever manage to invent a safe and practical transporter, á la Star Trek, the rural/urban distinction will become meaningless. That assumes equal access to the technology, thus the comment about our throwback social system. If everyone had equal access to transporters, distance will no longer matter. You can live on top of some mountain and beam yourself to work, to the Smithsonian, to Paris or Djakarta or wherever, and that regular intermingling of people will erode those differences. The equal access is the key, though. We will have to have something more akin tot he Star Trek social system, where no one's life is threatened by insufficient funds and no group of people is doomed to die decades younger than the privileged classes. UBI is the only thing I have heard that might be able to accomplish that.

What you said about rural people feeling insulted by smart people, though, is really true everywhere, not just in the urban/rural divide. Since intelligence is highly valued almost universally, intelligence becomes the first thing that gets denigrated when groups of people meet and observe their mutual differences. Urban stereotypes about dumb hicks are matched the structural inferiors defining intelligence differently. The Boasian breakthrough was the recognition that what constitutes intelligence is highly dependent on environment. Customs that seem stupid and savage to us turn out to be appropriate responses to surviving in different environments than our own.

Man am I babbling!

Both sides of this conflict would be better off, however, if they stopped calling each other names, acting insecure and honestly tried the "walk a mile in the other person's shoes" trick.

David Brin said...

Susan W, did the 7th son have a 7th son?

Country folk didn’t used to be resentful of universities and help from Blue America. They voted for FDR. It has taken huge investment in Culture war, to revive our civil war. See

Tim H. said...

There's another way to think of neo-confederate philosophy: "The loser's way". It was so in 1865, if it grabs every lever of power, it will be so again, taking down the entire nation this time.

Alfred Differ said...

Susan Watson | There has been a constant migration from countryside to town for a thousand years

Ever so slowly at first. The towns usually resisted as they were peopled by protectionists. The serious move into town only got underway in the 18th century and then picked up ‘steam’. As the 20th closed, the rate worldwide is now about 1 million each week. That rate won’t hold steady through this next century, but if we hold to anything close, we will be almost entirely an urban species before 2100.

My father’s side came from Scotland in the early 20th, so I can’t claim to be from the same cut as the Scots-Irish in the Carolinas. However, I DO get the stubbornness in the face of the obvious.

The whole world is moving onward. The West won the Cold War that punctuated the end of a dumb idea set in opposition to us. Many in the world get this well enough to be copying us now. Anyone not doing it won’t just get left behind. They will seen as quaint and be the subject matter of anthropologists trying to comprehend ‘the old ways’. Such groups can already be found in other parts of the US, so we know how this goes.

I’m willing to build roads, schools, and medical facilities. I’m willing to gift money to people playing catchup. I’m NOT willing to stand by and let them drag my family into their quaint ways. If they persist, I will work to steal their children in the memetic sense to save as many as possible.

shaming me in my ignorance

I’ve actually been accused of that. They were wrong, though. What I was doing simply by existing openly was reminding them of their ignorance. They are the ones who created the sense of shame. There is only so much patience I can muster in helping them around the consequences of the choices they or their parents made.

David Brin said...

Alfred… thing is there was a huge death rate of folks moving to town. Yet the migration only picked up and accelerated, showing how truly miserable life in the country must have been.

locumranch said...

How automatic is their equivocation between urban & smart and rural & deplorable! How incapable they are of thinking outside of their Blue Urban biases, prejudices & misconceptions ! And, how very quick they are to conclude that the rural locality is a 'shit-hole' as compared to their smelly overcrowded & overpriced metropoles.

Yet, the capper to goes to Paul_SB who states that 'intelligence is highly valued almost universally'!! Highly valued by WHO in what Non-Newtonian Universe? As if men & women everywhere are closet zombies who chose BRAINS over looks, empathy, sociability, physicality, status & wealth when looking for prospective mate. I almost laughed until I choked.

Then, there's the growing Red Rural Identity Politic:

Any & all rural misery exists by an urban design which exploits our rural products, resources & labour, offering us only a pittance in return, mostly through market manipulation & financial legerdemain. Of course, all things (including the urban gravy train) must come to an end, and time will tell which respective shit-hole can weather the coming Democalypse.

By average age, the current EU food producer is 55 years of age, the current US food producer is 58 and the current Japanese food producer is 70, leading to Market Failure. We will see BRAINS on the urban menu in short order, no doubt, where it will be "highly valued universally". Hold the Fava beans & wine.


Jon S. said...

He thinks that individual family farms are important food sources in the modern world.

How quaint.

Anonymous said...

Alfred Differ:
Alfred. I did not know you had cancer. That's terrible. ¿Was it because of the accident you mentioned?.
Broccoli often stops cancer metastasis. You can use broccoli to prevent cancer recurrence. Also, it seems that by other means, broccoli can increase intelligence levels.
The secret when cooking broccoli is to cook it as little as possible. Boiling broccoli reduces the levels of anti-carcinogenic compounds, such as sulforaphane, with losses of 20-30% after five minutes, 40-50% after ten minutes, and 77% after thirty minutes. However, other methods of preparation, such as steaming, microwave, and wok stir-frying, have no significant effect on the compounds.
See the link to scientific study:


TCB said...

New article: The Terrifying Future of Fake News

Or, What Happens when people can make it look (even to careful observers!) like something fake happened or something real did not.

TCB said...

BTW, I have been aware of the general idea of falsifying reality since reading PKDick and Stan Lem long ago. I've been aware that it was on the verge of real technical feasibility for about 20 years, and still have no idea what to do about it.

Can this provide enemies of freedom with the equivalent of an information doomsday weapon? A world where only a 'priesthood' of the oligarchs is even allowed to see what is really happening (and even they cannot be sure, beyond their own bailiwicks!)

Paul SB said...

Another important to to think about is the Demographic Transition. Before WW II, 50% of the American people lived on farms. FDR (or anyone else, for that matter) could not have made it to the White House without the rural vote. Now only 3% of the American people live on farms, and no one can make it in national politics without the urban vote. Times change, and old ideas stop working.


I should probably know this, but it's early in the morning so my brain isn't quite up to full power yet, but how much does baking affect the phytochemical in broccoli? If you bake the broccoli in a casserole or a quiche (surrounded by all that egg white protein) would the surrounding ingredients mitigate some of those transformations, or is it purely a matter of time and temperature?

I think this has kind of always been true - the powers that be try to control the narrative as much as they can, while the underclasses vacillate between bobble heading and creating their own narratives of resistance. Technology makes it much, much easier to fake things, but on the other hand, with cell phone cameras and internet connections you have a counterbalancing force.

Paul SB said...

Jon S.,

Quaint, but in a way dangerous. We all know that it is big corporate farms that provide all but specialty foods these days, and those corporate farms are what has made the family farm and endangered species. We also know that it is the urban Blue progressive that wants to regulate those huge corporations, and the rapacity of big corporations more generally, and they are the ones who stand up for the rights of small businesses, including the old-fashioned family farm. So our fake rancher's obsessive attacks are, as Larry has so often noted, aiming at the wrong target. It's the same situation with the coal mines (I almost wrote "cola mines" - that would be an odd fantasy world, like something from a Terry Pratchett novel). It is big oil, which is moving more and more to natural gas, that is putting coal mines out of business, but the Liar in Chief and the Oligarchic Party has the fools convinced that evil government regulation is what is putting them out to pasture.

We also all know that nothing the fake rancher says is anything but deliberate distortion. His latest attempt to goad me is one a child could parse. Just because one thing is held valuable by people does not mean it is the only thing held valuable by people.

raito said...

'Correlation is not causation'

Yeah, all of us here know it. But how to combat those who use that to say 'correlation is therefore never causation'?

It's really not that hard to make the argument. Getting someone to believe it is the tough part.

The first cut is 'where there's smoke, there's fire'. And you can find where their side has used that saying often enough to at least make the only neurotic among them nervous (the psychotic among them isn't worth the effort).

If they can understand it, point out that causation is hard to see by itself. So we investigate correlations to see if there's causation, because that's the low hanging fruit. We can see correlation, so we investigate to see if there's causation. Often, there isn't.

If they can actually think, ask them about the converse 'causation is followed by correlation'. Or ask the stupid ones if you're in a snarky mood, and point out the difference.

This brings up a conversation I was in last weekend about changing minds (on a completely different subject). In 100 people, 30-40 already agree. 30-40 don't, and the rest don't know. You go after the ones who don't know. If you can get them, some of the disagreers will come over, just from various social pressures. A very few are just not going to change no matter what, and there will always be a few. The remaining disagreers you just have to wait out or disenfranchise.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The whole world is moving onward. The West won the Cold War that punctuated the end of a dumb idea set in opposition to us. Many in the world get this well enough to be copying us now. Anyone not doing it won’t just get left behind. They will seen as quaint and be the subject matter of anthropologists trying to comprehend ‘the old ways’.

Dr Seuss taught us that back in the 60s:

But of course, the whole world didn't stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through.
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax,
And left them there standing, un-budged in their tracks.

"shaming me in my ignorance"

I’ve actually been accused of that. They were wrong, though. What I was doing simply by existing openly was reminding them of their ignorance. They are the ones who created the sense of shame. There is only so much patience I can muster in helping them around the consequences of the choices they or their parents made.

That's where I am with the willing Trump enablers who are confused and shocked that they got what they want but still aren't very happy. I'll work to save the rest of us from Trump, but I have no interest in saving those traitors from the fact that it sucks to be them.

Robert said...

Yeah. Family farms. Don't make me laugh, locu.

There are now warehouse farms that can be built anywhere that there is a decent water supply and a source of electricity. They use red and blue LED for lighting and a climate controlled environment that ensures that plants are not going to suffer from drought. Further, being in a closed environment the only insects are those allowed in, such as honeybees - if any (there are human pollination services after all seeing insects can be unreliable).

For less money, more produce can be put out there. These factory farms don't need to worry about the time of year. They have low shipping costs because they are near major consumer groups (ie, cities). They have a low environmental footprint, don't use huge amounts of herbicides and pesticides so their food is more "organic" than organic farms are. They can even produce a larger amount of food in a far smaller amount of space.

And in about ten years, you will likely see a growing (ha!) industry of lab-grown meat, including beef, chicken, pork, fish, and the like. These foods will likely be free of dangerous microorganisms, taste as good as the "real" thing, and have a comparable cost - because while it will be expensive to grow, when you factor in feed, antibiotics, animal husbandry costs, environmental costs (including protecting your animals from an increasingly chaotic environmental system thanks to humanity pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) then "natural" meat is only becoming increasingly expensive.

Oh, and the grown meat can also have factories located near major population centers, meaning that THEY also don't have to worry about shipping costs.

So. What are these rural communities going to do when their farms are no longer profitable? Sell their land. Lose their livelihood. Jobs aren't going to go out to rural areas. So unless someone gives them a Universal Basic Income (socialism!) they are going to slowly starve and fade away, while those towns city industries will become the bastions of immigration from other rural communities... and in turn will wither rapidly when those businesses close shop or choose to move elsewhere.

You can't even stay on your own property anymore and just grow enough for your own family to live off of because without an outside source of income, you can't afford property taxes. Go figure.

Rural America is doomed. They just haven't seen the writing on the wall. But it's there.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Paul SB:
Alfred Differ:
I guess frying broccoli with eggs in a pan is like frying broccoli in a wok, so the chemicals are almost never lost. But I suggest using olive oil instead of other oils because according to recent research with the exception of olive oil, the other oils cause certain damage to the brain. (I wonder if the olive oil research was done by an olive oil industry researcher, that's hard to know)

By the way, I forgot to mention that there is another important discovery in the fight against cancer. A brilliant discovery by Ronald Levy, M.D. It's something like a vaccine.
Este es el link:


Interested Observer said...

And a dissenting opinion, I more or less wrote off Huxley after Brave New World Revisited. I don’t remember the details now, I just remember coming away thinking that he was an ass.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | Agreed. I'll also have to admit another qualification. If one goes back far enough in our history, one can view the agricultural revolution as a move into the cities. Our HG ancestors had trading hubs, but their decedents greatly expanded on the idea. Apparently it was such a good deal for them they were willing to live in their own filth to do it. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that due to the lower life expectancies, but my grandmother probably would have told me cities provide opportunities for soon-to-be-thieves who would prefer to avoid death-by-famine and will risk death-by-disease to do it.

The explosive growth of cities, though, is a 19th century thing and we are in the process of making that look like nothing much. I WANT to live out where I have a lot of room, but I can't imagine moving my wife too far from a local coffee shop. It just wouldn't work. 8)

Interested Observer said...

Kudos for the Discworld reference, I tip my hat to you Sir.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Guys... let me put a warning out there. The whole "Meat Hook Treatment" exchange -- while we all know was metaphorical -- went way too far. To be clear. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I would take a bullet for my nation's elected president.... And while gasping my last, I'd then call him a flaming, idiot-narcissist tool of the nation's traitors and enemies.

I know most of you would do the same.

We are bigger beings than he is. That's kind of the point of this struggle.

Interested Observer said...

Tourism. That’s the only thing keeping my rural community afloat.

Alfred Differ said...

@Winter7 | Was it because of the accident you mentioned?

Heh. One never really knows such things. Science provides some information about risk factors, but those aren’t really causes. When it comes to specific people, one needs some very clear evidence for causal links and I don’t have that. Colon cancer isn’t new to my family, so my best guess is I have a genetic risk that got triggered as I got older. Who knows? It wasn’t a huge deal, though. They saw it early and snipped out a piece of my colon. Now I have to be examined each year so they can catch new occurrences earlier while they are small enough to snip out just the polyp. I’m all for that.

Medical knowledge is a wonderful example of how our knowledge can be both deep and limited at the same time. A few years earlier, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder than damn near killed me. Many people who die of it arrive at the hospital a little too early before all the symptoms have manifested and they get misdiagnosed. It’s not he doctors fault when that happens. What I had was a rare thing, so no sensible doctor is going to diagnose it early. I walked in at the perfect time. I had all the symptoms and no infection. I was about 3 months into a ‘disorder’ that had a 5 month survival median. (If you take a large group who gets it, half are dead at the 5 month mark.) It’s a terrible (and gross) way to die, but I avoided it because of very smart people participating in a community that weeds out false knowledge and fosters better ideas. When people ask me what triggered it, I have to say ‘I don’t know.’ The best guess is my immune system started attacking the inner lining of my blood vessels because some other bug had a protein coat that looked roughly similar. We will probably never know unless we decide to do what the fascists did and run a terrible medical experiment on live humans. I’d rather not know. 8)

What I DO know is that there might be some easy answers for colon cancers, but we won’t know without some very long duration experiments. Colon cancers tend to be slow and the best advice I’ve heard is to adopt a diet that doesn’t punish ANY of your internal organs. 8)

A distinct possibility for the damage done to my colon involves the chemo-drug I took for a year to survive the first disorder. That drug IS known to cause complications. Fortunately, the smart folks at UCLA came up with a better drug and I’m probably the last generation in the US to take the old one.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I WANT to live out where I have a lot of room, but I can't imagine moving my wife too far from a local coffee shop. It just wouldn't work. 8)

Heh. I wouldn't mind living in California, but my wife won't hear of it.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

I know you don't want your site being used to cross a line and call for violence. Just pointing out that neither Paul nor I did so.

If you look at that conversation, it began with a speculative mention that Trump's own mob might turn on him, as has often happened in history. PSB mentioned the m- h-, specifically to say that he did not hope such a thing would occur, if only because of the consequences to the country. I said he was a more generous man than I am, implying that I am flawed enough not to shed tears over comeuppance, but that I respected his position more than my own.

No one here called for active rebellion or violence.

Is that fair?

Sojka's Call said...

The false conclusion that global warming is not man-made therefore we can pollute with impunity is the most infuriating to me. Polluted air and water is not healthy regardless of whether they have anything to do with global warming. Yet, I hear this from my right-leaning friends who somehow believe since the science of global warming is not settled in their mind, then, as a society, we needn't concern ourselves with polluted air from coal or acidified oceans or polluted water sources from fracking/Ag/mining/etc. And, by the way, I am not against fracking or mining or agriculture done in sustainable and non-polluting ways.

Seems self-evident that as a species we need to eliminate as much air and water pollution as possible and to include pollution in the economic model of projects. Every industrial change should, at worst, have no impact on pollution and at best, eliminate or reduce pollution. Including the human health and downstream cleanup costs to name a couple items in project models would help us make better decisions. This just seems like common-sense to many people, yet others find this somehow incompatible with their belief systems and ideas of capitalism.

LarryHart said...

Sojka's Call:

Yet, I hear this from my right-leaning friends who somehow believe since the science of global warming is not settled in their mind, then, as a society, we needn't concern ourselves with polluted air from coal or acidified oceans or polluted water sources from fracking/Ag/mining/etc.

There's a certain element of Americans--it was apparent with Sarah Palin and "Drill, baby, drill!" for whom environmental damage is not just a cost they're willing to bear for an economic gain, but an end in itself. It's like they're so anti-environmentalist that they actually revel in the damage they can do. Maybe they just like pissing off liberals and environmentalists, or maybe it's the same sort of mentality that likes blowing stuff up, or maybe something else altogether. But the appeal of "Drill, baby, drill!" went beyond simply "Let's get more oil," and into "Let's cause as much irreparable damage as we can while getting the oil!"

john fremont said...

@Larry Hart

Agreed. Just look at the "Rolling coal" aftermarket kits for a lot of the diesel pickup trucks being sold. I've also seen bumper stickers saying EARTH FIRST, WE'LL LOG THE OTHER PLANETS LATER. They are always Republicans. Rush Limbaugh used to say on his radio and TV shows that the most beautiful trees are the ones chopped down and made into pencils. It's all about piss in off liberals.

Twominds said...

@ Alfred Differ

Some threads back (The end of the American Century? to be precise) we had a little conversation that I then fell away from. Daily life interfered, and your question wasn't answered, as it deserved.

The question was: how much [do] you trust the social institutions of which you ARE a part?

The answer is: less than I used to. I thought they were set in stone, unshakable foundations. Now it´s clear that they aren't (nor probably should be) but very much dependent on people wanting to preserve them.
In the Netherlands, even our PVV, the most Trumpist-like party we have, seems to want to keep and use the democratic process, at least for now. It's also hampered by the de facto one-man rule of Wilders, and has trouble getting effective on the municipal level. There's another similar party waiting in the wings to take over the role of the PVV, they may be more effective, or not, it isn't clear yet. They could play the role of Marine LePen to Wilders as Jean LePen, giving a gentler face to the same extremist ideas. Mainstream parties take over some of their points to keep voters, but not to an extreme. So for the moment it looks relatively stable and workable. Not something to be happy about, but nothing to panic over either.

In some other European countries it looks like a deliberate effort to break down democracy. Hungary is farthest in it, Poland is trying hard too. In Germany, the AFD is determining the debates, and establishment parties seem to have no answer to that. Like a decade ago here, when Wilders was framing the issues, and the other politicians were at a loss how to counter that. In Germany, the endless formation of a new administration isn't helping any. To my opinion, Merkel is doing more harm than good now, she shouldn't try for another term as Bundeskanzler. Time for a new face there.

All this would be worrying, but we would get it in grip, if we would just be able to wrestle with it without interference, and there lies my fear. From Putin's hackers to Cambridge Analytica, this is a kind of outside interference that was unthinkable in the time our democratic institutions took shape, and they seem quite vulnerable to it.

I live next door to the country that showed us, about 85 years ago now, how quickly a political situation can be changed, when a group is determinedly working against it, and others don't take it seriously enough, early enough. There, democratic and social institutions failed spectacularly, in a short time.

When I wrote my comments in the other thread, I was rather down, due to personal reasons, and that showed through in my comment about 'no influence'. Still, in the large picture, my influence is homeopathic.

Somewhere else in that comment thread, in a reaction to Dr. Brin, you said you have some ideas on how to regulate immigration so it would work better (my phrase, can't find the comment right now to quote properly). Would you please elaborate a bit on that? It's an issue I struggle with, and I haven't found well-grounded ideas yet that resonate with me.

Alfred Differ said...

@Twominds | I thought they were set in stone, unshakable foundations.

I suppose that makes some sense. You have a longer history than we do here in the US. Maybe your cultural memory doesn’t stretch back far enough, though? Yours is the nation that started this modern version of the ‘Western Experiment’ and the social institutions that we’ve constructed along the way. Historians point to Greece for some of our ideological beginnings, but it wasn’t until the 16th century in your area that everyone beyond the noble class began to get rich by doing something seriously different than what the Greeks did. After the English copied you, the Scots copied them, we copied them both, the French copied and varied, then it all poured back in to the rest of continental Europe and the revolution was well underway. It started in your area, though, and we copied YOUR institutions. Okay. To be fair we copied and did a variation on a theme. All of us did. 8)

It’s not possible for these things to be set in stone. It all shakes way too much. We’d shatter the foundations. I think this is especially true right now with the communication revolution that is underway. We can see each other far more than when I was a kid. We can talk to each other, coordinate actions, and annoy one another mercilessly. Our institutions can’t possibly know how to deal with all this new capability. How could they when WE don’t? Our ‘Freedom of the Press’ right ensured in our Constitution used to be limited by the fact that a ‘press’ cost money and distribution of printed materials cost even more. Not so much now, hmm? Who needs to distribute printed materials anymore to reach our fellow revolutionaries? Now even our tiniest political groupings can marshal the resources to speak, assemble, and protest. Who expected that?

if we would just be able to wrestle with it without interference

Well… that’s a nice thought, but it won’t happen. Look back to your own 16th century history for the solution. This is not the first time the nobles have tried to undermine us. It won’t be the last. Are we not up to the task today? Some of us are still barbarian enough to shoot the bastards. Remember that our democratic institutions were not born in quiet, peaceful times among soft people.

… in the large picture, my influence is homeopathic.

Hmm… let me see if I have the translation of that right. To me, a ‘homeopathic’ remedy is one that is so diluted as to be of no effect unless the victim of the con believes in it. Is that how you used the term? If so, I’ll challenge you with your own history. I’ll also challenge you to read Clay Shirky’s “Cognitive Surplus’ book. If you don’t feel empowered by other one, I’ll be surprised. Shirky points to something fundamentally useful that is happening right in front of everyone, yet few realize its importance. The people of your nation shouldn’t have any trouble recognizing what it is. After all… we copied you… indirectly.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

@Twominds | (continued)

Somewhere else in that comment thread, in a reaction to Dr. Brin, you said you have some ideas on how to regulate immigration so it would work better ….

Well… I was trying to draw him out with a longer explanation of what he thought was evil about US immigration policy. ‘Evil’ is a strong word and I respect him enough to trigger when he uses it. He explained, I kibitzed, and both of us are still mostly unmoved but perhaps better aware of each other’s points.

I’m of the opinion that ‘free trade’ isn’t free at all if labor cannot move as openly as goods and services. One of the few things most economists agree about is that free trade is generally a good thing for society with the obvious qualification that some people lose and might need help dealing with the consequences of creative destruction. I usually add to it by pointing out that a society with free trade is more likely to be rich enough to provide that help. Nothing is ‘perfect’, of course, but ‘better’ is generally better.

I recognize that some of my neighbors are more xenophobic than I am. I have to accept that and try for policies they will accept even if they grind their teeth a bit. Free Trade becomes Freer Trade and Now becomes Over-the-next-generation-or-two. I might never convince them to like those ‘strange foreigners who smell funny’, but I might be able to help arrange things so their children don’t give a damn and their children’s children wonder what all the fuss was about.

My neighbors complain about the costs of supporting immigrants. I take a deep breath, roll my eyes if they aren’t looking real close, and then point out that we can adjust the rules of our social safety net to obligate immigrant sponsors for the first few years of support IF those they sponsor need it. If I was contemplating sponsorship of my 5th cousin in that scenario, I’d think carefully about my debts and what happens to my family if that cousin turns out to be a parasite when they get here. Who pays for their medical insurance if they are unemployed? Who houses them while they get on their feet? I don’t actually have any cousins asking for a ticket to get here, but if I did I would still consider them carefully as though I might become obligated. If some of us already think that way, why not consider our emergent rule for a social experiment, hmm?

In the US, we already permit free movement of labor between our 50 states. Few people here give it much thought. Some of us are related to people outside our border, though, and wonder why the same rule won’t work? Economists have known for a long time that the more people in a market, the bigger the economy related to it is. They’ve known that the entrepreneurial spirit is somewhat rare, so bringing together larger numbers of people like we do in cities makes it easier for market participants to find each other and entrepreneurs to flourish. Our current immigration limits essentially protect us from prospering even more as they protect my ‘snowflake’ neighbors from their xenophobia. I don’t know how to get policy changed, but my family’s solution was simpler. Some of us attempted to bring unity through marriage sort of like the Hapsburg solution except we are not nobles.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

One of the few things most economists agree about is that free trade is generally a good thing for society with the obvious qualification that some people lose and might need help dealing with the consequences of creative destruction. I usually add to it by pointing out that a society with free trade is more likely to be rich enough to provide that help.

And on this subject, I'd agree with (what I have read was) the position of Thomas Paine that society owes the people it displaces a share of the wealth enabled by their displacement--not as charity but as a kind of rent or dividend.

I haven't read enough Paine to discuss his reasoning, but my reasoning is that the whole point and justification of society is that we humans are better off with it than without it. Some libertarians and malcontents of the locumranch variety argue that the responsibilities and duties of society are essentially theft. My counter for that is what I just said above--that we humans benefit from the mutual protection of society more than enough to make up for the cost. However, as you describe, there are some people who, through bad luck of the draw, are on the losing end of the bargain--that for the greater good, an advantage or a lifestyle is forcibly removed from them. By any justification for society, those people deserve compensation for what is essentially a taking by eminent domain.

If "we" benefit immensely from a situation in which they are impoverished, the only decent thing "we" can do is admit that some of the profit rightly belongs to them.

Paul SB said...


I like the sponsorship idea you outline here, but it sounds familiar. I think you may have mentioned it before. Your last paragraph on the economic impact of stifling immigration makes very good sense, too. I wish we heard more of this on the news and less of the same old drivel we usually get. Unfortunately it's too long to fit on a bumper sticker, so it will go over a whole lot of people's attention spans.

How far have you gotten in Sapolsky? I finished reading it several months ago (May or June) and have been reading other things, but last night, after finally satiating my Vinge craving, I pick did up again and started re-reading the stuff I flagged and underlined. I had forgotten what a treasure trove that book is.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

Sorry if my hyperbole was a bit much for you. You use it yourself so commonly I figured it was just a feature of blogging generally. This is the only blog I spend any time reading.

On taking bullets, however, I probably have a different view. I would take a bullet defending pretty much anyone who appears to be a reasonably decent human being, regardless of their nationality. But people who i know are not decent human beings - feh! If they behave so badly that they incite mobs of people to riot, I'm not going to stand in their way. Look at that US Net Wealth Shares graph you put up a couple months back and ask yourself how Trump is going to change those two trends, and how many decent people's lives will be ruined because of his tax policies. I'm not going to be the one to pull the trigger, but if someone else wants to do it, I'm not going to lift a finger to stop him. It's not about gentlemanly disagreements over policy when certain of our leaders work to ensure the creation of newer and broader human misery. I probably wouldn't shoot a panther that escapes from a zoo and goes around eating joggers, but I would certainly call local authorities and not stop them. At least with a wild animal, you can tranquilize it and put it back in its cage. Republican leaders are a different story, though with most of them I would be happy doing to them what was done to Napoleon.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | …society owes the people it displaces a share of the wealth enabled by their displacement--not as charity but as a kind of rent or dividend

… to which I respond that they already do IFF we keep the cheaters from leeching on the system. The dividend arrives in Act III and dwarves the riches earned by the initial entrepreneurs.

Yah. I know. Few believe it can happen that way in a society that strongly limits the cheaters. Bunch of ingrates. 8)

Paul SB said...

How about a few excerpts from that Sapolsky book I have been raving about, with a little of my own commentary. If you don't want to read about neuroanatomy tonight, Larry, feel free to skip it. I would rather you didn't, though, because I think you will see the relevance.

From "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" by Robert Sapolsky, 2017, pages 38 & 39

The amygdala also plays a logical role in social and emotional decision-making. In the Ultimatum Game, an economic game involving two players, the first makes an offer as to how to divide a pot of money, which the other player either accepts or rejects. If the latter, neither gets anything. Research shows that rejecting an offer is an emotional decision triggered by anger at a lousy offer and the desire to punish. The more the amygdala activation in the second player after an offer, the more likely the rejection. People with damaged amygdalae are atypically generous in the Ultimatum Game and don’t increase rejection rates if they start receiving unfair offers.
Why? These individuals understand the rules and can give sound, strategic advice to other players. Moreover, they use the same strategies as control subjects in a nonsocial version of the game, when believing the other player is a computer. And they don’t have a particularly long view, undistracted by the amygdala’s emotional tumult, reasoning that their noncontingent generosity will induce reciprocity and pay off in the long run. When asked, they anticipate the same levels of reciprocity as do controls.
Instead, these findings suggest that the amygdala injects implicit distrust and vigilance into social decision-making. All thanks to learning. In the words of the authors of the study, “The generosity in the trust game of our BLA-damaged* subjects might be considered pathological altruism, in the sense that inborn altruistic behaviors have not, due to BLA damage, been un-learned through negative social experience.” In other words, the default state is to trust, and what the amygdala does is learn distrust and vigilance.

And now my comments on the text:

* BLA = Baso-Lateral Amygdala, a specific part of the amygdala that takes in sensory information, responds to it and stores emotional memory (by way of the hippocampus).

So we can automatically dump Hobbes. Fear, violence, anger and distrust are not the “state of nature” for humans, as he would say. Trust is the natural state, but humans are equipped with a system to learn distrust in specific, negative, circumstances. Or put another way, human instinct is to trust people until they give us a reason (real or imagined) not to. People who have been conditioned to distrust automatically are pathological, people whose upbringing created supernormal fear stimulation, resulting in cross-generational paranoia.

Thus rabid conservatives like our imitation rancher are pitiable, mentally-diseased people who need help, not scorn, and arguing with them only makes them worse. Would you argue with a schizophrenic having an episode? A good SSRI and some Cognitive Behavior Therapy would be a good place to start, because they are simply not capable of rational thought.

Paul SB said...

A couple more juicy tidbits, ones that shoot down a lot of assumptions about what makes people what they are:

Page 96 – on the effects of context

In a test of the theory, Kees Keizer of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands asked whether cues of one type of norm violation made people prone to violating other norms. When bicycles were chained to a fence (in spite of a sign forbidding it); people were more likely to take a shortcut through a gap in the fence (in spite of a sign forbidding it); people littered more when walls were graffitied; people were more likely to steal a five-euro note when litter was strewn around. These were big effects, with doubling rates of crummy behaviors. A norm violation increasing the odds of that same norm being violated is a conscious process. But when the sound of fireworks makes someone more likely to litter, more unconscious processes are at work.

Page 97 – on how culture affects perception

Show subjects a picture of an object embedded in a complex background. Within seconds, people from collectivist cultures (e.g., China) tend to look more at, and remember better, the surrounding “contextual” information, while people from individualistic cultures (e.g., the United States) do the same with the focal object. Instruct subjects to focus on the domain that their culture doesn’t gravitate toward, and there’s frontal cortical activation – this is a difficult perceptual task. Thus culture literally shapes how and where you look at the world.*

* As an important point, this is indeed a case of acculturation, rather than a reflection of populational genetic differences – East Asian Americans show the typical American pattern.

(This footnote is in the original.)

Alfred Differ said...

I put Sapolsky's book down a bit ago, but only to slurp up a couple of smaller math books. I had an itch that needed scratching. His book will pop off the stack next. 8)

Yah. I've mentioned it before. I am mashing up and paraphrasing people in my smaller social network. It certainly doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, but I have given that some thought.

"Where are you going to build the wall if we marry them?"
{The image to go along with that really HAS to be a blue kepi.)

Paul SB said...

One more for today. The numbered footnotes are my thoughts on the author's words, not his own words.

Page 130-131 Stress effects on PFC, executive function & judgment

Stress compromises other aspects of cortical function. Working memory is disrupted; in one study, prolonged administration of high gluccocorticoid levels to healthy subjects impaired working memory into the range seen after frontal cortical damage. Gluccocorticoids accomplish this by enhancing norepinephrine signaling in the PFC so much that, instead of causing aroused focus, it induces chicken-with-its-head-cut-off cognitive tumult, and by enhancing disruptive signaling from the amygdala to the PFC. Stress also desynchronizes activation in different frontocortical regions, which impairs the ability to shift between tasks.
These stress effects on frontal function also makes us perseverative – in a rut, set in our ways, running on automatic, being habitual.1 We all know this – what do we typically do during a stressful time when something isn’t working? The same thing again, many more times, faster and more intensely – it becomes unimaginable that the usual isn’t working.2 This is precisely where the frontal cortex makes you do the harder but more correct thing – recognize that it’s time for a change. In rats, monkeys and humans, stress weakens frontal connections with the hippocampus – essential for incorporating the new information that should prompt shifting to a new strategy – while strengthening frontal connections with more habitual brain circuits.
Finally, the decreased frontal function and increased amygdaloid function during stress alter risk-taking behavior. For example, the stress of sleep deprivation or public speaking, or the administration of high gluccocorticoid levels, shifts people from protecting against losses to seeking bigger gains when gambling.3 This involves an interesting gender difference – in general major stressors make people of both genders more risk taking. But moderate stressors bias men toward, and women away from, risk taking.4 In the absence of stress, men toward more risk taking than women; thus, once again, hormones enhance a preexisting tendency.
Whether one becomes irrationally risk taking (failing to shift strategy in response to a declining reward rate) or risk averse (failing to respond to the opposite) one is incorporating new information poorly. Stated most broadly, sustained stress impairs risk assessment.

1. In other words, conservatism is a stress disorder.
2. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity? The example of the Maya Collapse comes to mind here. The whole civilization, which presumably means its leaders and a sufficient number of citizens to not threaten their leadership, intensified the very thing that was destroying them, because that was what they believed made them stronger.
3. Like, say, saber-rattling at an unstable dictator who is in possession of nuclear weapons?
4. Could this be part of why women are so under-represented in the corporate executive class? That is a cultural subgroup that treats risk taking – however foolish – as a sign manly power and feral cunning. More cautious people simply don’t get promoted because they don’t fit the corporate vision of a “winner.”

Anonymous said...


Dr. Brin often mentions the metrics that show much worse life conditions in Red states. Examining what shapes human brains should get the message through that these problems are a stew of intergenerational-self perpetuating dysfunctions. Doing things the old, traditional way is why there is so much misery in the world, and why people who espouse such insanities should be paid as much heed as we would a schizophrenic. They don't need scorn, we shouldn't be laughing at them, and we sure as hell shouldn't be letting them make important decisions for other people. They need treatment to get their hypersensitive amygdalae under control so they can start making rational judgments. They create their own trauma, and like delusional people everywhere they think they are smart and everyone else is stupid, and they try to force their delusions down everyone else's throats. I'm sure there are still some rational, sane conservative people out there, but every year since Gingrich took a contract out on America they have been turning more and more into a theater of the absurd. We tried those old ideas for thousands of years, and those millennia truly sucked, much worse than the blood and guts we see on Game of Thrones.

Paul SB said...

Hey, I'm not Anonymous!

Anonymous said...

Alfred Differ:
I have always thought that treatment with chemotherapy is a very primitive treatment. It is surprising that there is currently no cure for cancer.
There is in Mexico, a plant that is used to cure ulcers and colon cancer. This plant eliminates Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that increases the risk of colon cancer.
The plant is called Cuachalalate. (amphipterygium adstringens). It is used in the form of tea. (a spoonful of tree bark, for each cup of water) It is advisable to have a cup after breakfast and another cup after dinner.
This is the link to a scientific study about this plant:


Anonymous said...

Llamada de Sojka:
¿ Are you in favor of fracking? I was too. Until I found out that it raises the radiation levels in the water of large areas. I did not know that.
This is the link to scientific study:


Anonymous said...

I agree with your point of view that governments should give some retribution to those who are affected by the economic systems promoted by governments. Around the world there are people affected by global economic activities. But those victims do not get compensations, because in all countries there are political villains who are left with the budget that should be allocated to the victims of global economic policies.
¡Haaa! ¡Those villains! ¿Where will the really effective heroes of our world be?
Speaking of heroes I was thinking that the central character of "The Postman" is not the typical hero who seeks a revolution to change the situation. No. Actually, the postman only exposes his life in defense of democracy. The postman does not seek to create something new, erasing all of the above. The postman seeks only to save a democracy that cost a lot of blood to obtain. (And of course saving the sexy girl) (Yes, the actress of the movie was very cute, I think she is Olivia Williams)
In truth, I had not thought of that detail before.


Anonymous said...

¿What is that evil Donald Trump trying to do ?:


Twominds said...


A quick reaction in a quiet moment at my work: as far as I could see in the linked article, the radiation level is higher than background, but not excessively so. 650 times higher sounds like a lot, but background is so low, that even a large multiplication still is just a bit.

When reading about (dangers of) radioactivity, be aware that there's a lot of incorrect and incomplete information to be found. Some deliberate, some due to lack of knowledge. Usually, when the theme is: "ooh scary, large numbers, sensation" chances are that the article isn't factual. To my disillusion I found that the antinuclear movement and many environmentalists lie and cherry pick more than the nuclear industry.

When I'm home tonight, I'll link to a infographic that illustrates very clearly how radioactivity scales from almost undetectable to harmless to harmful to deadly.

I don't like fracking either, but because of the methane that escapes from badly made or maintained pipes and equipment. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, in the short term, and release into the environment negates the advantages it has on coal. If there was effective oversight and control I wouldn't mind so much, but two large fracking nations, the US and Russia, don't seem to care a lot.

Twominds said...

I saw I left something out in my previous reply: I do not think uncontrolled release of radioactive material into the environment is a good idea. Like all other potentially dangerous materials it should be controlled and regulated in proportion to the risks.

We don't have a health physicist or radiation safety specialist amongst our regular commentators do we? Is there a lurker with that profession who would want to comment on my comments?

Jerry Emanuelson said...

There is a well-established process called radiation hormesis that causes low doses of radiation to stimulate natural DNA repair mechanisms in the body.

If you go to PubMed at:

and search for "radiation hormesis" you can find many reports about it.

In the United States, there is a petition before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to officially abandon the obsolete "linear no-threshold" model of radiation exposure. See:

The problem here is that the threshold of ionizing radiation damage is apparently different for every person; and we don't yet have a way to determine the point where radiation damage begins to overwhelm natural DNA repair mechanisms.

Also many people have a religious attachment to the old "linear no-threshold" model.

Incidentally, there is another component (actually a metabolite) of brocoli that appears to confer a lot of protection against ionizing radiation. It is available in many health food stores. It is called diindolymethane (usually just called DIM). See:


Twominds said...

@ Jerry Emanuelson

I didn't want to go as far as introducing Winter7 to radiation hormesis, when he still seems to have the reaction of: any radiation is dangerous and scary. When I started to read about the subject, I had to untrain ingrained habits of thought too. Radiation hormesis seemed very unlikely to me at first. Only later, when I had learned that (as with anything) there are gradations of harm and harmlessness, I could try to judge the idea on merit. Now, I'd say its more likely than Linear No Treshold, but I don't have the expertise to defend that judgement in depth.

LarryHart said...

@Twominds and @Jerry Emanuelson,

In the 1960s, comic books depicted superheroes and supervillains getting all sorts of powers and abilities from radiation. When my wife flew in a commercial plane while pregnant, I used to claim (hope) that the background radiation would give our child powers.

It almost sounds as if you are saying there is a small threshold at which that could happen.


LarryHart said...


Speaking of heroes I was thinking that the central character of "The Postman" is not the typical hero who seeks a revolution to change the situation. No. Actually, the postman only exposes his life in defense of democracy. The postman does not seek to create something new, erasing all of the above. The postman seeks only to save a democracy that cost a lot of blood to obtain.

It sounds as if you are familiar with the movie, while my exposure is to the novel, so keep that difference in mind. When I first read "The Postman" in the 1980s, one of the elements that appealed to me is that Gordon is not some demigod who is "destined" to defeat the Holnists or save civilization or anything like that. He and the Holnists are not natural enemies, determined to fight to the death. Gordon is just a guy doing what he has to in order to get by in the situation he finds himself in.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I'm sure there are still some rational, sane conservative people out there, but every year since Gingrich took a contract out on America they have been turning more and more into a theater of the absurd. We tried those old ideas for thousands of years, and those millennia truly sucked, much worse than the blood and guts we see on Game of Thrones.

A perfect segue to this NY Times column from this morning:

Back in the 1990s, there was an unconscious abundance mind-set. Democratic capitalism provides the bounty. Prejudice gradually fades away. Growth and dynamism are our friends. The abundance mind-set is confident in the future, welcoming toward others. It sees win-win situations everywhere.

Today, after the financial crisis, the shrinking of the middle class, the partisan warfare, a scarcity mind-set is dominant: Resources are limited. The world is dangerous. Group conflict is inevitable. It’s us versus them. If they win, we’re ruined, therefore, let’s stick with our tribe. The ends justify the means.

The shift in mentalities seems like a shift in philosophy. But it’s really a shift from a philosophy to an anti-philosophy. The scarcity mind-set is an acid that destroys every belief system it touches.


All of this would be survivable if the mentality was going away in a few years. But it is not going away. The underlying conditions of scarcity are only going to get worse. Moreover, the warrior mentality builds on itself. As the right pulverizes the left, the left feels the need to pulverize back, and on and on. This is a generational challenge. Trump will be succeeded by some other warrior.

Eventually, conservatives will realize: If we want to preserve conservatism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors. Liberals will realize: If we want to preserve liberalism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors.

Eventually, those who cherish the democratic way of life will realize they have to make a much more radical break than any they ever imagined. When this realization dawns the realignment begins. Even with all the structural barriers, we could end up with a European-style multiparty system.

The scarcity mentality is eventually incompatible with the philosophies that have come down through the centuries. Decent liberals and conservatives will eventually decide they need to break from it structurally. They will realize it’s time to start something new.

George Carty said...

Twominds: When I'm home tonight, I'll link to a infographic that illustrates very clearly how radioactivity scales from almost undetectable to harmless to harmful to deadly.

Is this the radioactivity chart you have in mind?


Twominds said...

@Larry Hart

It almost sounds as if you are saying there is a small threshold at which that could happen.

Nothing nearly that spectacular. It's just that it looks like a small dose of radiation will kick DNA repair into gear, undoing the radiation damage, and repairing a bit more damage from unrelated causes while it's at it.

@George Carty

Yes, thanks. I find it the best visualization for interested laymen like me. Winter7, please have a look at it.

Jon S. said...

"In the 1960s, comic books depicted superheroes and supervillains getting all sorts of powers and abilities from radiation. When my wife flew in a commercial plane while pregnant, I used to claim (hope) that the background radiation would give our child powers."

Apropos of nothing in particular, but that line reminds me of one of the humorous exchanges in the game Fallout 4. At one point in the storyline, you learn you're going to have to go into a place called the Glowing Sea, the place the warhead that was supposed to hit Boston actually impacted (its name comes from the fact that the area still glows in the dark 210 years later), in pursuit of information about the Institute. Dr. Amari, who is advising you at this point, asks what preparations you've made to traverse such a dangerous region. (Hint: A suit of Power Armor left over from the War two centuries ago will be your best friend here.)

One of the dialog options you're given: "Oh, no, I'm going in naked. Fingers crossed I get superpowers!"

(To which Dr. Amari replies, "I realize you're making a joke, but as a physician I must remind you that unprotected exposure to those levels of radiation will make you dead. D-E-A-D.")

Twominds said...

its name comes from the fact that the area still glows in the dark 210 years later

I doubt it that is even possible. I'll have to look it up, but as far as I know by heart, for the glow to happen you need fission or fusion reactions, not just decay reactions. It's a nice visual in movies of: Danger! Radioactive!, but it's a Hollywood version.

For something really mind-blowing: look up Oklo Natural Nuclear Reactors. 2 billion years ago the conditions were just right for nuclear fission reactions to occur in uranium ore layers in Gabon.

Darrell E said...

Paul SB,

I think you are slightly overstating when you say that the default state for humans is to trust. I'm not sure it is even meaningful to talk about a default state. Both "systems" evolved, presumably, because they conferred enough of an advantage to be positively selected for. The amygdala emotional response "system" is the much older system, and more basic. Prior to mammals even. Social behavior and frontal lobes came much later while the prior systems remained. One is not better than the other in a general sense though one may be better than the other in a particular set of circumstances. Both are always operating, given a "normal" brain.

And of course modern human society has changed in the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms leaving us with systems that evolved in response to quite different circumstances than obtain now and that aren't the best for current circumstances but good enough for the species to thrive, same as it ever was with evolution.

But you probably know all that, please forgive me for "teaching my grandmother to suck eggs." Don't mean any disrespect.

Anonymous said...

Then, the postman did not want to fight for democracy. It seems that, in reality, the postman planned to let General Bethlehem continue destroying everything, as long as Bethlehem did not mess with him.
I guess in a way, most people in the world are like the postman. Most people will not try to stop a General Bethlehem unless they are directly affected by the actions of the villain. It seems that from there we can deduce many things about the customs of human society. That applies to the spirit of most of humanity.


raito said...


Those who regard society as theft are usually the same ones who believe deeply that they'd be on top if there were no society. When we know that nearly everyone would suffer. They're gamblers. They'd rather take the extremely thin odds of no theft vs. all theft instead of the much higher odds of some small amount of guaranteed 'theft'. They know no game theory.

But whichever of the robber barons who was willing to be taxed in preference to a chance at the guillotine did. (Was that Rockafeller? Our host mentioned it some time ago.)

As far as scarcity goes, the current scarcity is artificial, brought upon us by the neurotic hoarders of resources. Watch an episode of Hoarders, then look for those behaviors in the destructive rich. You'll see much the same, except that the destructive rich have a horde of parasites enabling the behavior.

A slight aside, we bought a new printer last weekend. The old one never worked right. And being as I am, I dismantled the old one last night (yes, it might be good to be a gangsta, but I used tools other than an Office Space-approved baseball bat). And in doing so, it's really, really, heard to imagine that there's scarcity when we can produce items of this complexity at such a low cost. It also reminds me that it will be many , many generations because such a thing is 3D printed.


Reducing risk is not the same as curing.

And I don't think 'retribution' is the correct word. You probably meant 'restitution'.

Sojka's Call,

No mining or fracking is sustainable, nearly by definition.


Not a health physicist, though I know one virtually. According to him, at low levels, the toxicity of the elements is far more dangerous than the radiation.


I don't think that you're correct about the farming industry. Not that the methods, etc. won't change, but I don't see 'valuable' urban land producing nearly enough food for the inhabitants. Even with the improvements you mention, it'll still take a lot of space and energy. And that's what the rural sector has. But they'd have to get modern, more modern than Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

I also disagree somewhat that jobs won't go out to the rural areas. In a knowledge economy, where location is less vital, I can see some percentage preferring to live rurally, while working urbanly (if that's even a word).

In short, I don't think it's as bad as you portray.

But I do agree with your point on property taxes. In some places, it's the reason for them to exist.

For the rest of you, here's something interesting I was reading, having gotten there from somewhere else entirely:

Besides the fact that you geeks would probably like just how complex paper jams are, there's the bit in the middle about printer use in the mid-90's in the Chicago children's court system.

The claim is that paper jams in the printers caused 2 of 3 defendants to be released without significant trial, because the required documents were not delivered to the defense within the time limit.

Unintended consequences, indeed.

Twominds said...


You describe another character, I won't name him in case there still are people here who didn't read the novel.

The Postman used a lie to get food and shelter, and started to believe in the lie in that sense that he more and more wanted it to become true, and saw possibilities in the remains of civility he found here and there in Oregon. Other people believed his lie and tried to work towards a restauration of their lost civilisation. He's more a catalysator than anything else.

Anonymous said...

In any case, it seems that fracking in the extraction of gas and oil seems to be the cause of earthquakes. It is evident that fracking has the potential to cause a disaster if it is carried out in certain areas.
This is the link to studies on that subject:

Regarding the issue of radiation. Is not it obvious that humans should build cities several meters underground to minimize exposure to the cosmic radiation with which we are continuously bombarded? That way, we could get rid of most of the continuous bombardment of particles that we suffer.
I remember that in Turkey thousands of years ago, people lived in a very ingeniously built underground city that mimics the environment. They even created houses within the nearby mountains. All as a way to survive the frequent passage of conquering armies in the area.
If primitives were able to achieve that, certainly today's humans can do more. In fact, the US government has several underground cities, created to hide for years the rulers in case of nuclear apocalypse. One of those underground cities is so big, that it has a passenger train. The Russians have under Moscow a huge city built inside giant structures in the form of spheres. I think I remember that some shopping centers in Canada are underground.
Of course, when living underground, it is necessary to consider technical problems that do not exist when living on the surface.
I suppose that, in the future, most of the rich will live in cities underground.

As for that claim that the body generates radiation on purpose ... I have never read that the body can generate radioactive particles by itself. If I misunderstood you and what you say is that a little radiation is good because it induces the immune system to create interleukin-12; there are certainly other ways to activate the immune system, such as living on a farm since childhood. And that's safer than exposing yourself to radiation.


Twominds said...


Fracking has several issues that count more than the TENORM (technically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials) issue. Chance of earthquakes in areas sensitive to it is one of them. Methane releases are another.

No need to go underground to shelter for cosmic radiation. Our atmosphere and magnetosphere protect us, and we're evolved in a lightly radioactive environment. We're used to it. In fact, it was higher long ago, when our core biochemical functions evolved.

There must have been a translation fail, the body doesn't generate radioactive particles, no. We ingest some of them, mainly carbon and potassium, that have weakly radioactive isotopes. In fact, one of the most important archeological dating methods uses the half-life of carbon-14, that's in every living organism.
I don't think radiation hormesis works through Interleukin, but very basically triggers direct DNA repairs. Maybe Jerry can give more details about that.

I won't deliberately expose myself to radiation, but I don't fear it either in normal circumstances. That was the basis of my reaction to your post with the link, to make clear that the enhanced radiation levels mentioned there are not a good thing, but not dangerous either.

Do you have a link to the Turkish underground buildings? I'm interested, but I've no idea what you're referring to, unless it's Petra?

Twominds said...


Just to add: do look at that chart George Carty links to. It's really very informative.

LarryHart said...


Then, the postman did not want to fight for democracy. It seems that, in reality, the postman planned to let General Bethlehem continue destroying everything, as long as Bethlehem did not mess with him.
I guess in a way, most people in the world are like the postman. Most people will not try to stop a General Bethlehem unless they are directly affected by the actions of the villain. It seems that from there we can deduce many things about the customs of human society. That applies to the spirit of most of humanity.

We're kind of talking past each other, because I never saw the film, and it sounds as if you never read the book. In the novel, there is no "General Bethlehem", although there is a general by a different name. And while Gordon did act as you describe at one point in the book, he ultimately fought against the Holnists, if not exactly "for democracy", then certainly for civilization.

Anonymous said...

¡Larry! I think we're doing book spoiler! ¡Some people have not read the book yet! Then we should not count the end.
¿Did I make a spoiler when mentioning the movie "The Mailman"? I hope not.
Then I will not mention more details of that novel... As for the make of the film... I wonder if David brin had to turn his book into a movie script. Someone over there said that Kevin Costner himself was the director of the movie.
¿Did you know that Costner is the owner of a company that created devices to collect and capture oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico after the accident of the platform "Deepwater Horizon"? Here is a man who defends ecology, risking his own money in risky ecological businesses.


David Brin said...

Sojka: remind your friends they were the ones who said “tobacco is harmless” and “cars don’t call smog” and “women can’t fly jets” so their credibility on factual matters is dubious.

Twominds. There are two notions about SOCIAL integration of immigrants: the “melting pot” in which children of immigrants learn to be Americans, first, and then layer on lots of their ethnic heritage as a thick, tasty cultural icing…

… vs. the “Goulash” approach, fostering islands of genuine ethnic difference who co-exist, side by side.

Europe does goulash and it is spectacularly awful, Simmering ghettos of resentment that in turn spark hatred from the host ethnicity. For thousands of years, such side-by-side communities erupted in violence, like we’ve seen in Lebanon, Iraq, Burma.

The Melting Pot could have a big flaw…. homogenizing away the differences that make us interesting. That’s what lefties claim to fear, and I would too… if it were true. But in fact, no nation has ever celebrated diversity more than contemporary America. The Pot simply works.

And hence, I see no point in an immigration system that stirs resentment and strife, rather than helping us get more rich so we can be more generous. If we are going to let in X millions of eager new Americans, we need criteria to choose them. Ethnicity would be racist and reunion preferences beyond immediate family — for reasons I’ve described — are morally indefensible. So let it be “merit!”

Why not have the win-win-win positive sum outcome of an America that’s enriched by immigration, so that immigration enjoys a high reputation at home and we can continue being generous?

Jon S. said...

"I doubt it that is even possible."

It probably isn't - the Fallout series is driven by a very Hollywood idea of How Things Work (also, the timeline diverges from ours at the invention of the transistor - they developed a more advanced version of a vacuum tube instead). I was just reminded of that line, one of my favorites in the game (right up with the farmer who wants you to go to a nest of Raiders to recover his family's heirloom sword, where one response is, "So I'm going to be taking a knife from a gunfight. That's remarkably stupid. Even for me.").

Alfred Differ said...

@winter7 | very primitive treatment

Well…Chemo comes in many varieties. The main feature of all of them (as I understand it) is that they are generally toxic, but slightly more toxic to the thing you hope to attack. If taken carefully, you might have a decent chance of surviving the procedure. If that chance, when combined with the odds of its success are better than no treatment, it isn’t unreasonable to consider it as a viable option.

In my case, a treatment involving a drug that tends to felt your DNA was developed in the 70’s. It takes about a year to complete the treatment, has a 90% survival rate at the 5 year mark (I’m at year #4 now), and a 90% chance of complications that range from bladder cancer to a zillion of other issues. They learned over the years to have patients take it along with a cocktail of things intended to deal with the most dangerous possible complications, so I was taking a lot of stuff each day for a year. Had I been diagnosed many years earlier, those extras might not have been known and I might have trade the auto-immune disorder for something else. If I had been diagnosed this year, the chemo-drug is no longer on the recommendation list due to the research at UCLA.

Some cancers can be eliminated. Some can’t. What people can survive today is WAY better than what I recall as a kid. Some auto-immune disorders can be beaten too. Many can’t. The one my sister has is slow and they’ve slowed it a bit more, but there is no known fix for it. For mine, though, there was a fix and I’m doing well enough to pitch in to help some non-profits raise money for research on the one my sister has. {If anyone here wants to throw a few bucks at scleroderma research, I’ll be grateful.)

It takes a LOT of work finding these cures, mitigations, and work arounds. Very often, the substance that fixes one thing causes another, so we are always considering trade-offs. I’m an old school liberal in the political sense, but when it comes to medical choices it turns out I’m about as conservative as they get. I had a choice for using the UCLA research a few years ago. It had FDA approval, but hadn’t been around long enough to amass 5 year survival statistics. I looked at the 90/90 option and compared it to the unknown option. My kidney doctor told me that if I lived just a little closer to UCLA, they’d hook me up with them and NOT offer the 90/90 DNA felter. I went with the older method, took my ‘known’ chances, and spent a full year feeling quite nauseous. It worked, though, so I’m not complaining.

Chemo is what it is. It is the option you hope you don’t have to pick as a last resort. I’d rather pick it, though, than face my sister’s future. Her’s is slow and mine was fast, but I’ll take a chance at living any day.

(For the older regulars here, I’m not trying to rain gloom on your day. It’s just that I think some youngsters need to see us facing Death and delaying the inevitable by making science-based choices. Reading one science article and going with a recommendation that we like is NOT the smart way to make use of the mountain of knowledge we’ve built using Science. Blindly following the advice of one doctor isn’t either.)

Paul SB said...


No offense taken. Your concerns are understandable, but you suggested that I was overstating, when that was an extended quote from Dr. Robert Sapolsky., who is one of the world's leading researchers on the effects of stress on the human brain. You are right, of course, that the limbic system predates primates, but that does not mean that the current human limbic system is precisely what the photo-limbic system was for the earliest proto-mammals 200 million years ago. Remember that evolution works by modifying previous structures more so than making new ones out of whole cloth. Conservation of the general structure does not mean it has not undergone substantial rewiring and changes to the proportions of neurotransmitters inputting to and outputting from the system. It's possible that no other animal on Earth has this same default setting. Having this default setting is consistent with just about everything else we are sure of about human nature - that as individuals humans don't have a prayer in the wild. It is only because of their cooperative nature, combined with their intelligence and capacity to build, that humans have been able to make it thus far.

The implications are pretty profound if you think about it, and not just politically. There are a whole lot more gems in that book that are just as astounding, or more so. And a key thing to keep in mind is that this is a synthetic work. He isn't making any of this up, everything he discusses is already out there in the peer-reviewed literature, he's just putting them together in a unique way.

Tony Fisk said...

Sorry Winter7, but I'd be very dubious about your claims on brocolli and radiation.

I suppose brocolli is being toted because of antioxidants: things that mop up free radicals left in the wake of ionising radiation. Might work in the bloodstream against chemical ingestion, I'm less sure of radiation, where the radicals effectively appear at random, and in places antioxidants are unlikely to be allowed.

Still, brocolli isn't something to discourage. I'm more concerned that supposedly intelligent folk are making such general claims about 'radiation' doses. It sounds a bit like early claims about the healthy glow of radium, and similar to the rosy glow that was recently applied to opioids.

Radiation is part of the environment. Risks can be diminished, and DNA does have some repair mechanisms, but there is no minimal dose that's unequivocally safe.

Spiderman and Hulk are all very well to fantasize about, so long as you know where the fantasy ends. Evolution may be driven by mutations, but most mutations are lethal: radiation is much more likely to turn you into an ex-person than a X-person.

Some bacteria *can* thrive in high radiation environments, but you'll find their DNA is structured in a very resilient manner.

No doubt some of the discussion is tongue in cheek, but I'll lay it out so we're clear, 'ionising' radiation* is capable of knocking electrons out of joint and creating highly reactive free radicals to cause wildcard reactions in places they aren't wanted (ie cell nuclei). It comes in four varieties:
- Alpha: bits that fly off unstable heavy atomic nuclei. They quickly settle down to become He4 in gas fields (He3 arises from fusion of protons and deuterons, and is captured from the sun.) Alpha particles are readily stopped by your epidermis and the external risk is negligible. Internal risk is another matter entirely.
- Beta: electrons (and positrons) emitted from middle weight radioactive isotopes. They have higher penetrating power than alpha
- Gamma: electromagnetic radiation that comes from any nuclear reaction. Gamma rays can interact with nuclei, X-rays with electron shells. UV-Vis can induce chemical reactions, but not ionise.
- Neutrons: lacking a charge, these cannot be deflected and have a high penetrating power. The penetrating power increases with energy and leads to the odd result that 'fast' neutrons are less damaging than 'slow' because they tend to travel straight through you. When they do hit something, though, the damage is enormous. This is what neutron bombs produce.

The level of damage also depends on tissue type. Anything with a lot of replicating DNA present is at high risk. Gonads, bone marrow, liver, gut lining. Muscles are less effected. Picking up a radioactive source and holding it at arm's length is fairly safe. Putting it in your breast pocket is not advised.

The units of dosage (Sievert) try to combine various factors like energy, penetrating power, and type together for an easy to follow set of rules (as with Munroe's diagram), but do be aware that the different sources do have different effects.

Here endeth the lesson.

Twominds said...

@Paul SB,

Quick post before I go to bed.

I was thinking about this amygdala steered trust/distrust effect: a baby animal must trust its caregivers, or it won't survive. Only later can it practise distrust.

@ Albert,

I hope to find time tomorrow to go on with our conversation. A discussion about radiation will reliably distract me :-)

Zepp Jamieson said...

LH: "Pardon me if I presume that you meant "A villain is always a hero in his own eyes." Otherwise, this won't make sense."

That IS what I meant to type, and thanks for the assumption. I generally prefer to make sense.

Anonymous said...

Alfred Differ:

My neighbors complain about the costs of supporting immigrants. I take a deep breath, roll my eyes if they aren’t looking real close, and then point out that we can adjust the rules of our social safety net to obligate immigrant sponsors for the first few years of support IF those they sponsor need it.

I looked at what it would take to sponsor someone to Canada a decade or so ago. It was explained to me that I'd be on the hook for any social benefits they required for the first chunk of time. (I want to say five years, but my memory's gone fuzzy.) No idea if that is still policy, and if so how successful they are at collecting any money.

TCB said...

I find this interesting: after more than thirty years, the area around the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, is still so radioactive that humans are allowed to visit only briefly and with protective suits. However, wildlife abounds there. It's true, animals and plants suffer various ill effects from ionizing radiation, such as cataracts and birth defects. However, a researcher in the article says:

>"I would argue that for many of those species [the effects of radiation], even if they’re there, probably aren’t enough to suppress populations to the point where they can’t sustain themselves,” says Beasley. In the zone, “humans have been removed from the system and this greatly overshadows any of those potential radiation effects.”

>"Essentially, this means that human populations have a bigger negative impact than radiation."

Paul SB said...


You hit that one on the head. If I still had a functioning brain I would have remembered to make that point, although I was trying to let Sapolsky's words speak for themselves and make it clear when I was drawing conclusions based on them. But to piggy back on Darrell, your point applies very well to K strategist species - animals that have few offspring but work hard to ensure they make it to adulthood. A whole lot of the Animal Kingdom takes the opposite approach, producing huge numbers of offspring that are mostly eaten by the K strategists long before they are old enough to have kids of their own. My daughter's lizard had amygdalae. He panics whenever he sees a bird-shaped shadow. But lizards are R strategists who lay tons of eggs then leave them to their fate. Thus the point I made to Darrell about older structures being rewired by evolutionary trajectories. Default setting for a reptile is likely fear, the amygdala activating long before their much smaller cerebrum gets involved. But humans aren't the same. Humans are almost uniquely dependent on adults to get them through an unusually long childhood alive.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

The old Melting Pot idea is more of an ideal than it is real, and it is more real in the western states than it is in the older eastern states, that preserve a lot of ethnic communities that were around in some cases before the US was an independent nation. I like to use a geological analogy - porphyry. It's largely a matrix of fine, mixed crystals, but with some much larger phenocrysts (I used to describe porphyritic texture as like a chocolate chip cookie, the dough like the fine-grained matrix, the chips like the large inclusions). Maybe we will reach that ideal, but I that won't happen as long as the dominant ethnic groups continue to scapegoat the smaller, less powerful groups, and it's been capris landscaping for a long, long time.

TCB said...

It occurs to me that if we ever meet intelligent, tool-using aliens, they may have similar behavioral imperatives and strategies to ourselves but they would not arrive at them the same way. They would have a totally different evolutionary history, and there's simply no telling what different paths might lead to a similar sort of tool-using sentient.

Examples: their cells would not have mitochondria. But if they were able to walk around and have complex bodies and behaviors like we do, they would need to have had some sort of similar accident in their history. It's hard (for me at least) to imagine a complex ambulatory sentient life form built up from non-eukaryotic cells.

They wouldn't have an amygdala. But they might have something equivalent, probably? Some sort of neural structure that mobilizes fight-or-flight responses?

Or they might not have separate neural structures at all?

My point here is that, when we talk about our own social behavior, and other related topics, we are forced to frame everything based on the way vertebrates on one planet are organized. We have no idea which features would be common in alien species and which are flukes of our evolutionary history, and thus would not be very useful in understand how most aliens might think and act.

Indeed we only about half understand our own behavior.

ZarPaulus said...

Being autistic, I find it a bit annoying when New Agers do a 180 from general society's pathologizing of my neurotype and messianize us instead with their "Indigo Children" nonsense. I also think it might be telling of something that they've labeled affective empathy a "psychic power".

Tony Fisk said...

Ants practising the "Soldier's Creed" of not leaving behind fallen comrades. (although they do apply triage!)

I daresay people could still live around Chernobyl. They can certainly visit. The radiation isn't massive at all locations. However, another point to consider: humans live longer, and would build up a bigger dose over time than the animals that now live there, especially if they raise crops. I suspect the average life span of people would be noticeably lower than average. Dogs, not so much.

Alfred Differ said...

@ZarPaulus | My 18 year old son is autistic. Over the years I’ve seen so much nonsense from parents, relatives, and so-called medical people that I can’t even begin to categorize it. The ‘Indigo’ stuff really IS nonsense, but it comes from those times when our children truly DO surprise us with capabilities we can’t match. It also comes from our parental desire and desperation for our children to have stronger social skills and not suffer the obvious pain we see in them when they try.

I’m glad you are here.

Alfred Differ said...

@Twominds | No rush. I offer you a little radiation story/joke in the meantime. Okay. The joke is a tad mean, so be careful.

The typical helium balloon given to children at birthday parties has a moderate amount of air mixed in as it isn’t necessary to sell pure helium to get them to float. Where does that helium come from? We usually catch it as a byproduct when we get natural gas out of the ground. The helium is mixed in. Any geologic formation capable of trapping natural gas might be good enough to trap some helium too. There is no chemical process inside the Earth to produce helium, though.

That means every joyful kid at the party has a balloon partially full of a byproduct of radioactivity. Mention it to one of the other parents and try to look concerned. You’ll quickly sift out the ones that might be worth talking to if you want an educated conversation. 8)

The chemists tell a variation of it with a glass full of dihydrogen monoxide.

Then there is the one for those of us born in the early 60’s when above ground nuclear testing was all the rage. In the right party setting, we point out that the police unearthing our murdered bones will be able to figure out our year of birth. Our teeth are a dead giveaway. 8)

Of course, you might already know these and have other better ones. 8)

Anonymous said...

Tony Fisk
I did not say that broccoli protects you against radiation (as far as I know, although it may give more biological resilience).
I said that broccoli avoids cancer metastasis (it does not work if you have certain potent types of cancer) and I also said that broccoli can make you smarter.
And speaking of being smarter, as I told you before; neurogenesis can be caused by vitamin B (take the B complex); the dehydroascorbic acid of the guavas (which helps to survive a stroke or any blow that children get in the head); turmeric (almost impossible to get where I live); Melatonin also causes neurogenesis and helps you sleep better. Sexual activity also causes neurogenesis; the exercise; Mental exercise by participating in the website "Contrary brin" also causes neurogenesis.


Anonymous said...

In the previous message of mine, the translator had to translate "knock"; Not "Blow."
Hooo. ¡That naughty AI of the google translator!


Anonymous said...

If I saw the table that explains the radiation levels. Very interesting. I was wondering where there was something like that.

Here is the link about the underground city in Turkey:

Certainly, in the future, only the Republican billionaires will be able to live in underground cities to survive the radiation caused by the Mattel "accident" that occurred on June 2, 2018, when Donald Trump discovered that someone had changed the case of nuclear buttons , for another manufactured by the toy company Mattel and managed to find the real hidden case in Melania's closet.
At that time, the Republican leaders and Donald Trump took refuge underground for 6000 years, becoming the Morlocks. (Occasionally they come to the surface to play golf at night and catch the Eloi, which are the basis of the Morlocks' diet.
Life in underground cities would be very expensive. (but on the planet Mars it will be more convenient to live underground), so we will have to continue living on the surface of the planet.


Anonymous said...

Alfred Differ:
I'm sorry that your sister has an autoimmune disease. Science is advancing very fast. I think we can hope that soon there will be a cure. But maybe it's good to be persistent when looking for new news about the diseases you're interested in healing.
For example. Suppose that at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, the researchers made an important finding.
In Mexico, the news of new medical discoveries takes a long time to reach hospitals. I imagine the same thing happens in the United States. So, for example, if you find out that some researchers made a great discovery, what harm could it do to send copies of those investigations to the email of doctors from research institutes near the area where you live? Perhaps in that way, you could accelerate the process of spreading the new discoveries, shortening the time required for a new cure to emerge. Of course, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but I do not think those doctors get upset if you explain the cause of your letters.
It is an idea that occurred to me. Maybe the idea does not work; but I feel that it could work.
Moving on to another issue: ¿Did I tell you that eating probiotics or yogurt is good for the immune system? Somehow, the bacteria in yogurt stimulate the immune system. In addition, by consuming yogurt or probiotics, you can prevent bad bacteria from multiplying excessively. The legions of lactic bacilli will fight to the death against the other bacteria for the possession of every inch of your stomach and intestine.


Zepp Jamieson said...

"Indigo Children"
I had to look that one up. I'm used to utterly asinine thinking from the Woos, so this didn't come as a major shock. They do have a tendency to ideate around people who are different from them, expect for people who actually use their brains for a living. Oh, they have their physickers, doctors and scientist. Neil deGrasse Tyson need not apply, though: real science is the bald headed guy with the Romanian accent to shows up on the cable channels explaining how they can make their water wetter.
Next time you come across one of these Indigidiots, let 'em know you know a guy who, for a mere $250, will sell them a quart of water guaranteed to contain atoms that once passed through the Buddha. Holographic Holy Urine, or HHU for WOOs.

Tony Fisk said...

@winter 7 that's what I get for skimming. As for the evil AI in Google Translate, it's keeping at least one person happily employed.

Helium, Alfred? I thought everything was a radioactive byproduct once.

Twominds said...

@Alfred Differ 7:11 PM
Funny, I don't really know any radiation jokes, but I do joke about it sometimes.
For instance, I told my coworkers that I had visited the radioactive waste repository in our country, and they looked a bit like 'rather you than me!'. I said, hey, I didn't grow a third eye, did I? And they: well, we didn't want to tell you, but now that you mention it...

If I want to see some eyes popping, I ask how many atomic bombs have been exploded. Almost always the answer is two. More than a thousand, I reply, and I see the rapid rethinking happening: Oh, you mean the testing too! Christ! Were there so many???

I like a bit of a shock effect too, now and again (cue wicked grin).

@Winter7 8:47 PM
Thanks for the link, I'll have a look later today.
About living underground, not me! No Caves of Steel for me, I rather stay on the surface even in a contaminated environment.
By the way, did you know this? Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't abandoned after their destruction. There was no place to evacuate the entire populations of two large cities to. And except for the people who had been close by the blasts, just far enough to survive, cancer percentages weren't higher than elsewhere in Japan.

@TCB 4:15 PM
Yes, visitors can go to Chernobyl. I thought only at the site of the power plant itself and inside, protective suits are needed, and strictly limited staying times. Outside, people walk in their ordinary clothes, with guides who know where to go and where to stay away from. Often, they lived and worked there, and can tell about the disaster from their own experience.
I want to visit there. The reason I hesitate is that it's hard to predict if the Ukraine stays relatively stable like now, or that more fighting will occur, and more westerly than before.

@ Tony Fisk 6:01 PM
There are still some people living in that area, the famous Babushka's, the Old Women of Chernobyl. Most went back illegally some years after the disaster, and they are old now, in their 70's and 80's, tough as boots and with no illnesses from radiation that can be recognized.

Hey Alfred, what did I say about a certain subject would distract me? ;-)

TCB said...

Anon said: "At that time, the Republican leaders and Donald Trump took refuge underground for 6000 years, becoming the Morlocks."

Have you seen the Morlocks' hair?!?!??!

LarryHart said...


At that time, the Republican leaders and Donald Trump took refuge underground for 6000 years, becoming the Morlocks.

In the spirit of the Golgafrincham B-Ark (a word I always have to look up), can we convince them that the nuclear exchange has already begun, and that the time to take refuge in the underground complex is now!?

From the point of view of us "left behind", that could be the next best thing to The Rapture.

LarryHart said...


I want to visit there [Chernobyl]. The reason I hesitate is that it's hard to predict if the Ukraine stays relatively stable like now, or that more fighting will occur, and more westerly than before.

Sorry, but I had an image come to mind of Humphrey Bogart going, "There are parts of Chernobyl that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

Twominds said...

@Larry Hart,

Sorry, but I had an image come to mind of Humphrey Bogart going, "There are parts of Chernobyl that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

I don't think there will be any serious fighting about who'll possess the Sarcophagus! No matter how crazy some of the combatants may be in our eyes.

And I have NO desire to see the inside of the ruined building either. Or see with my own eyes the 'Elephants Foot'. Grainy video images are good enough!

LarryHart said...

Just so y'all know, my posting habits will be changing again soon. After way too long, I finally landed a permanent position, something I haven't had since before the 2016 election. There was a six month contract in between there, but that didn't mitigate the need to keep looking for work.

I'll miss the free time, but I won't miss the job-hunting, and it will be nice to have an income again.

Jon S. said...

Winter7, that use of "blow" is correct in English. The word isn't always naughty. :)

Yeah, that "Indigo Children" thing done pissed me off, too. My daughter is beautiful, strong-willed, and being raised to be the best human that her mother and I can manage to encourage - but she sure as hell doesn't have any magic "psychic powers" (she can barely communicate verbally, except by encoding it in movie or TV quotes), nor does she (or her brother, or my sister, or me for that matter) represent "the next step in human evolution". Neurodiversity is complementary to neurotypicality, not a replacement for it.

Twominds said...

Congratulations Larry! What sector?

LarryHart said...


I'm in the IT world, more specifically Data Warehousing.

Twominds said...

Should be enough to do then. I'm doing a project on a large repository (140,000 records) of Safety Data Sheets, adding metadata, cleaning up, archiving and when that's all done, updating for the current raw materials with the latest sheets in all cases where they're more than 2 years old. Expected time needed about 5 man-years, divided over 3 people.

Twominds said...

@ Alfred Differ, continuing our conversation.

I have just a bit of time, so a small subject:

Homeopathic influence. I used that phrase in a half-comic way, knowing it would be a red cloth to a bull for at least some people here.

It's still an uttering of frustration. It's nice of you to say I have some influence, I raise my voice here and it is heard. Good, but how does that make a difference in the world? I have a single voice, I don't use internet tools to create a million fake accounts to scream my ideas into the web and give the impression I'm a whole movement all by myself.
Others do, and it feels dishonest and sets ordinary people like me back.
Another reason for using that phrase is that my partner and me have opposite political views. I managed to make him think and in the end change his opinion on nuclear power, but his political ideas are so deeply ingrained, I feel I'm pushing against an immovable object. And as I'm not an irresistible force... frustration is the result. It's a good thing he has many excellent qualities, otherwise!

David Brin said...

Congrats LarryHart!

TCB Morlock's hair. I KNEW it looked familiar!



LarryHart said...


I should have asked you for work while I was looking. :) Of course, IIRC, you're over in The Netherlands, and I'm not authorized to work in Europe.

My wife did work a summer in Denmark back in the 80s. I keep wondering if we can leverage that if we need an escape route.

LarryHart said...

missed again!

Dr Brin urges us onward!


Human said...

I want to thank you for your eloquence David Brin. Your oration is riveting and hitting the most pertinent questions with a truth hammer like I have not heard before. We should clone you.