Saturday, June 01, 2019

Oh, the Conspiracies!


Travel anywhere in the world, visit a bar, pub, barbecue or someone’s home or hut for dinner, and you’ll find one topic easy to spark: conspiracies. No matter what the nation, tribe or ethnicity, people will quickly and gladly rail about some group grudge and how “people like me” are being put upon by conniving adversaries who are simultaneously evil and almost-supernaturally clever.

And always: “The world may be filled with fools who believe the cover story. But not me and my brave, insightful and savvy folk. We can see right through to the truth!”  And naturally, those foes flatter themselves in exactly the same way, viewing everyone else - including you - as either patsies or diabolical plotters. 

Ah, humans. Should we be known as Homo credens (one of you suggested), the credulous ape? 

Read texts from olden times and see the same pattern across time. No wonder the age of science seems threatening to many, whose favorite fantasies might shrivel under the light of evidence. I wrote The Transparent Society in hope that more open and reciprocal accountability might show us what is true, rather than what feels so-satisfying to believe.

Alas, there truly are conspirators in this world! Moreover, they have developed a great technique to distract from their nefarious plots — by helping spread a stinging miasma of paranoid ravings – made up or inflated stories that genuine schemes can hide behind. 

(See it illustrated in this stand-alone scene from Existence.)

Indeed, while you’ll admit that this seems true, the last thing you will contemplate is that your favorite conspiracy might be part of that disinformation-distraction fog.


== Methods to triage which plots seem plausible ==

When it comes to conspiracy theories, I know that if I dip my toe into even one, the tar baby will try to suck me into a maelstrom of evidence and "evidence” and persuasive rants and incantations… and in most cases I just don't have the time.  Not even — or especially — the ones that appeal to my ego, my prejudices, or my “side” in contemporary tiffs.

Hence, I have come up with a coping mechanism that you might also try.  A set of questions to ask, when some folks — especially those who are ‘like you’ in some way — try to foist on you their favorite story of an Evil Plot Only We Can See. And we’ll start with one that will reflexively infuriate any and all of you.

Question number one: Have trustworthy experts already worked on the case? Are they accountable, transparent, and aware that they are themselves scrutinized by a variety of interests? Are they answerable to multiple, separate structures?  This is, after all, the reason why we set up a civil service with a diversity of agencies and chains of command -- then augmented that setup with a free and diverse press -- then augmented that with a wide range of member-supported NGOs, from Greenpeace to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

(And if you aren't a dues paying member of a dozen NGOs, each fighting for a future you believe in, then take another look at the hypocrite in the mirror. The method is a lazy person's cheap route to bragging rights: "I'm at least doing something." Here's how.)

Of course, this networks of accountability systems is exactly what conspiracy believers (at all ends of the spectrum) claim has failed. Indeed, they hold that such a thing -- accountability through competitive openness -- is impossible. Certainly Hollywood portrays accountable professionalism to be nonexistent in government. Writers and directors do this for reasons of lazy plotting that I describe here. And in so doing, they spread a poison.

To be clear, betrayal by governmental powers belongs way up there on our list of things to watch for! Take the way the one man — J. Edgar Hoover — for decades dominated the top layers of U.S. federal criminal investigation, often deciding to pursue or quash cases, at whim. Still, we have inarguably the least corrupt institutions in the history of humanity. (If you doubt that, just try slipping a fifty to that cop giving you a ticket, next time. Please. Then write to us from jail.) So, while I am Mr. Transparency, extolling “sousveillance” and looking-back at power, I also am skeptical toward raving paranoia.

Which is not entirely a symptom of just the mad right! Take the lefty "Loose Change" conspiracy theory, about the 9/11 calamity. This scenario claims that the WTC towers were deliberately demolished by explosives planted over the course of months, in order to distract from the intended destruction of WTC Building Number Seven, the real target. Oh, but among the dozens of ways that theory is jibbering loony, there is the fact that explosives leave chemical residues, and the wreckage was sampled not by one agency, or a dozen, but scores of them, local, state, many federal bureaus, news organizations, NGOs, private citizens.  If even one of them had proclaimed discovery of such chemicals, every other one would have re-tested — and there was no lack of available debris to analyze.

(Don't get me started on the "melting temperature of steel" drivel that's fountained by fools.)

Do you grasp what I mean by a diversity of skilled professionals? Question number one allows you to deal with some, not all, of the most ridiculous purported plots — those that presume there are no competent people in the world.

Which brings us to question number two:

How many conspirators would be needed by this scheme? How perfect a plan and execution is required?

Loose Change is an extremum that serves as a terrific test case for these questions. In this alternative-9/11 scenario, it would have taken dozens, even scores of the most skilled experts in building demolition to plant the required explosives, which by the way could not use the usual detonation technique, since traveling wave explosive lines would not work, over such distances. So you'd need electronic systems similar to those used in nuclear bombs.

Then you'd need dozens of workers skilled at hiding the charges behind walls and in stand pipes, plus dozens more providing security. Essentially, the entire World Trade Center (WTC) security staff would have to be suborned or replaced. And funny thing... there’s no record of any such staff replacements. Indeed, most died in the disaster.

In other words, you'd need at least a hundred henchmen, performing a task no one has ever done before, amid utterly vacuum-tight secrecy, and executed with perfection never seen in any government project. Oh, don’t forget another several hundred or so conspirators needed in order to perform the bizarre other half of this theory, the faking of the aircraft hijackings!

Now, you might answer: "I don't believe in the "Loose Change" conspiracy! On the other hand, MY favorite one is clearly true!"

Hm, well, show me even one popular conspiracy theory cult that has analyzed points number one and two? 

The most recent right wing dizziness -- over the murder of ex-DNC staffer Seth Rich -- is just like every other tirade about Clinton-spawned "murders.” It’s composed of a chain of "coincidences" and arm-waved assertions that never once rises from vague correlation to causation, let alone falsifiable/checkable tests. And never is there a calculation of how many conspirators it would take or how many skilled professionals would have to be suborned.

Oh, but it gets... richer on the right, with babbling jibber-jabber about a "Deep State" conspiracy among civil servants, FBI agents, the entire intelligence community and most of the senior military officer corps... in choots with nearly all the scientists, journalists, teachers. .. Yeah that totals what? Five million or so conspirators? But the, I've spoken elsewhere about why there's a propaganda war on smart people.

Which brings us to question number 3: Why would the conspirators who purportedly executed these actions do it? 

What would convince them to betray their oaths, their professions, their conscience and their country? 

I’m not saying it doesn't happen. The Watergate break-ins and coverups involved a fair number of moderately -- (not very) -- skilled people who did it all for combinations of money, hatred, loyalty-to-a-faction and potential advancement to power. Let me repeat that I know there are conspiracies! Indeed, it is laughable to ignore the biggest and most blatant one, called Fox News, which openly works for a melange of foreign billionaires, from the Saudis to Russian Mafiosi, from Macao casino lords to an Australian deceit mogul. We’ll get to their motives in a bit.

On the other hand, most right wing conspiracy theories are not meant to prove anything, but rather to leave an impression. Ponder the Seth Rich tizzy. Supposedly, he was murdered because he – and not Moscow agents -- had spilled those Democratic Party files to Wikileaks. Tasty, since it lets Sean Hannity proclaim “It wasn’t Russians, after all!”

Sure, whatever you say, Ivan. Only let’s apply question number 3. Were those files worth killing anybody over? In fact, almost nothing revealed about Clinton or the DNC was intrinsically all that harmful, just briefly embarrassing. Only the timing, at a perfect moment in the campaign, did Clinton any real harm. (There was no fire, but the well-timed smoke did help kill her.) So, seriously, you’ll commit a capital felony – murder – over files that contain nothing toxic? Below, we’ll see how this “conspiracy” fails every other simple test.

At the opposite political extreme, none of the "Loose Change" zealots have ever offered a plausible reason why even one skilled person would be remotely tempted to devote immense energy and dedication to performing such a heinous act on behalf of some currency speculators, let along several hundred of our most capable public servants or officers.  

Money? Please. That you would assume so speaks more about your inherent corruptibility, than theirs.

Which brings us to question number 4: Why take the risk?

Seriously, let’s continue with Loose Change, because it provides such a great example of every maniacally stupid conspiracy theory trait. Ponder how each of the skilled conspirators would know:

“These fellows working on this evil plot next to me… any one of them could have recorded our activities and conversations. An hour from now, that fellow over there may spill it all to the FBI and the New York Times. He'll be a hero, get rewards and speaking gigs and be on talk shows forever, while all the rest of us get arrested, tried and then parceled out to prisons where both the inmates and guards will make life hell for traitors and attempted mass murderers."

At which point he'd think: "Maybe I better be that guy who blabs first."

Seriously, how do you stop defections? The communists were dedicated, yet we pulled in defectors all the time. ISIS and Al Qaeda are zealous, yet they leak like sieves. Yes, you can both inspire and terrify your henchmen into mass-uniformity if you run a powerful state like China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia or a narco-kleptocracy, where their families can be crushed, at will. But show me how that would work in a Loose Change scenario.

Seth Rich? Seriously? Show me a democrat who can keep his or her damn mouth shut! Now show me the dozens who would have to be complicit, from local law enforcement to the nearby FBI bureau office, to the victim’s family.

I’m not saying for 100% certain it didn't happen. But consider this simple fact. When you are going to be a whistle blower, the first thing you do is establish murder insurance, by setting up delay-drops containing everything you know, to be released in the event anything happens to you. Don’t these people ever watch movies?

Jesus, starting long ago with Vince Foster… and certainly after the Foster story made the rounds … wouldn’t anyone intending to squeal on the deadly, mass-murdering Clintons know to take basic precautions? Or is it now the notion that every single one of them were stupid asses? Perhaps even as stupid as the millions of fools who believe in Clinton-Murders?

How long has it been? 25 years and half a billion dollars spent investigating the Clintons, in desperate search for something, anything. When G. W. Bush took over the White House and owned the federal government, he re-assigned scores of FBI agents etc. to pore through e-files and cabinets, digging for "smoking guns,” in order to send to jail "the most corrupt" Clintonite politicians. What did the most extensive witch hunt in US history accomplish?

(1) Agents distracted from counter terror before 9/11... in other words outright treason. (Ponder that, plus Bush-Cheney family ties to the Saudis.)

(2) Zero Clintonian officials even indicted for malfeasance of office, a first ever for a two term administration. Later a second U.S. administration accomplished the same perfect-clean record: Obama’s.

This one – Question Number Four – is the biggie and as a society we should be making it our top transparency priority to reinforce it, by encouraging, not punishing whistle blowers. Elsewhere I describe ways to do this that could be entirely consistent with running a healthy and effective civil service. We should do this both in law and via private foundations that offer what I’ve called “Henchman’s Prizes.” 

The easier we make it for henchmen to defect, the fewer of them Blofeld and Doctor Evil and their ilk will be able to hire and trust.  

Sure, some conspiracies are safer from defectors than others. Many ex-employees of Rupert Murdoch have openly and publicly denounced the lie machine, explaining details of the process. These revelations accomplished nothing to staunch the flood of entertaining, voluptuously crowd-pleasing rants and incantations. Not till some of the tattlers found they could nail Fox for things that violated the law.  Then… lo... truth started to matter.

And so, we come to conspiracy question number five.  Who benefits?

Oliver Stone slandered LBJ as the obvious beneficiary of JFK's murder.  Sounds plausible, till you realize how desperately Johnson slaved and strived (and aged) aiming to do one thing, to make Kennedy's hopes come true. Alas, that included JFK's horrific-macho ambitions in Vietnam, but also, on the brighter side civil rights, the vastly successful War on Poverty, achievements in space and so on. Is that utter loyalty to every goal consistent with spite and conspiracy to murder? (See Bryan Cranston's film: "All the Way.")

In fact, I have never been able to find anyone who actually benefited from the Kennedy assassination. Though we should watch out for other motives. Take revenge. JFK had haters, ranging from Cuban Communists and (some) Cuban exiles to the KGB to the KKK to the Mafia to Marilyn Monroe fans… and yes, all the way to the armed, dangerously loony, and perfectly situated expert marksman Lee Harvey Oswald.

“Who benefits” can be extended to plotters who thought they would benefit, but failed. Far more plausible than Oliver Stone’s insipid scenario – that (based on zero real evidence) JFK was about to pull out of Vietnam – the the very opposite, that some U.S. officers saw we were heading into a quagmire and sought to eliminate the super-macho leader who was plunging us into a devastating mess. Do I believe this? Of course not. But I can concoct paranoid scenarios far better than the ones currently going stale on our DVD shelves.

The Loose Change ditsos collapse with their easily disproved "who benefits" railings, unable to concoct any reason why powerful men would hire hundreds of professionals for such risky treason. 

On the other hand, Fox News has been a money machine for Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi partners, and it helped sustain the Supply Side “Voodoo” Economics (SSVE) cult long after that madness was scientifically refuted, allowing Murdoch's pals to raid the US taxpayer time and again. Above all, by fomenting culture war – AKA phase 8 ofthe US civil war --Murdoch's shills accomplished his top goal: the destruction of U.S. politics as a means for adults to deliberate policy, to negotiate solutions across party lines.

Gridlock is the goal, along with demolition of any trust between the people and the government that they own.  So that conspiracy passes the “who benefits” test.

Note that all five of the questions I have asked, so far, are simple, straightforward, and make demands upon the conspiracy ranters, not upon you.

Which brings us to number 6: Who is strenuously keeping things dark?

We do no know for sure (yet) that there was direct collusion between Donald Trump himself and the Kremlin. But his absolute refusal to allow any look into his finances, or his behaviors in Moscow and half a dozen secret debriefings with foreign despots without US witnesses, show someone who is desperate not to allow light onto those topics. 

Now add his obstruction of professional investigations and you have behavior that is certainly far more consistent with a conspiracy than almost any of the other fantasies boiling around.

Question number 7: Is there a simple but devastating rebuttal/answer to the Conspiracy Theory?

Let's illustrate this one with an example. In one of his most famous rants, Glen Beck sought to portray George Soros as a media-propagandist kingpin to match Rupert Murdoch, shouting "George Soros is so powerful he toppled Eight Foreign Governments!" 
   Its an accusation repeated by Hannity, Carlson, and so many others.  Ooh. Scary government-toppler George Soros.

Now, I’ll surprise you by agreeing with Beck! George Soros did in fact help to topple eight foreign governments! Alas, while nodding along with Beck about that horribly scary, Democrat mogul must be, none of his dittoheads ever asked:

“Say Glen, how about naming those foreign regimes that George Soros toppled?”

Is it a sign of the quality of his audience that no one even considered it pertinent? Oh, it's not just Fox-dittoheads, and their dullard democrat opponents, who would not recognize an opportunity if it fell in their laps. Can you name the foreign regimes that George Soros  'toppled'?  

There's a reason Beck never said their names!  Because doing so would devastate his entire, narrative, beyond all hope of recovery.  (And no, I won’t do it here. When you look it up, you will slap your forehead over being a member of the same species as Fox-viewers.)

Question number eight: Am I doing due diligence by weighing critics of this thing and seeking smart/balanced arbiters?

The Question speaks for itself. And I can almost guarantee that you are not. 

Heck, I'm pretty lazy too.

Still, I have offered a number of ways that our modern fact-arbiting systems can be improved, not by ensconcing some elites to rule of Truth, but by taking advantage of the competitive/adversarial process we're already so good at. 

I pitched some of these ideas in 2017 when Facebook was panicking over its role in 2016 election travesties. But soon they were smugly back to assuring "We can handle this top-down, trust us." How's that going for you?

See also my FACT Act.

Question number nine: Why should we trust your elites?

Elsewhere I talk about how the central message of most Hollywood films is Suspicion of Authority, or SoA, conveyed in nearly every book or film or song. The basic difference between a decent, rational liberal and a decent, rational conservative is which group in society they worry is conspiring to become Big Brother. 

Conservatives fret about conniving power grabs by snooty academics and faceless government bureaucrats.
Liberals see plots by cabals of secret-conniving oligarchs and faceless corporations.

When you put it that way, the only answer is Duh? All of those power centers are inherently dangerous. Ideally, we are warily guarding each others' backs, with liberals grudgingly admitting "all right, I am more worried about plutocrats and you fear bureaucratic excess. I'll listen to you a bit if you'll listen top me."

Ideally. 
   Given human history, we should long ago have concluded that all elites are inherently dangerous and will be tempted to abuse power, while rationalizing that it is for the greater good.  
   Our systems were set up by very clever people so that elites will compete with each other! In their rivalry – sometimes called separation of powers – we have found a way to prevent any one of them from becoming an Orwellian monolith.

So yes! We should examine conspiracy theories! 
   I have concocted and promulgated my own, in both fiction and nonfiction. 
   And if you’ll have a look at mine, I will have a gander at yours. That is how we’ve managed to stay free.

But that synergy breaks down when - amid bilious re-ignited civil war -- one side has convinced all of its partisans that the only way freedom can be harmed is from one direction.

It is political fused spine disease. An inability to turn your head.

I regularly make efforts to prove I do not have a fused political spine.  While I declare -- based on mountains and tsunamis of proof - that today's American right is completely insane and the tool of a rising oligarchy trying to re-start feudalism…

…I regularly eviscerate shibboleths of a much smaller loony far-left, and urge sane liberals to be wary of their leftist allies.  See this: The miracle and compromise of 1947.

== These tests are only the beginning ==

I could go on. These questions are a good start, though, when trying to wade through the modern tsunami of innuendo, distractions and lies. Are there conspiracies? Of course there are! Our civilization is threatened by several, as we speak.  In fact, it is to distract from the real ones that so many false imbecilities are spewed.

These questions won’t eliminate or parse them all.  They are only a start.

Over the long run, we need to keep employing experts whose job it is to inspect possible crimes. Indeed, we need to keep a wide stance… both investing some trust in the skilled professionalism of our diverse civil servants and striving to increase their diverse accountability, their sense that they live and work under scrutiny and light. Only with this combination of high professionalism and fierce citizen oversight do we stand a chance of navigating this ever-foggy era.

74 comments:

DavidTC said...

Dismissing all JFK conspiracy theories out of hand is dumb. But I get why people do it, because for some reason most of the conspiracies center around the moronic idea that Oswald didn't do it. Because Oswald did do it. From the Text Book Depository. Everything about the actual act of assassination makes perfect sense and has been explained countless time.

The actual conspiracy is...there's a hell of a lot of connections between Oswald and both Russia and Cuba. Like, a lot of really obvious things, including meetings between likely KGB agents.

The idea that Oswald was working for Russia, or some part of a Russian operation, or some Russian/Cuban operation, is not insane. It's honestly pretty plausible, just from circumstance evidence. And as for who benefits...JFK had been causing problems for both of them the entire time in office.

It's just...that gets utterly lost in the nonsensical conspiracies about how Oswald couldn't be the lone gunman and other bullshit.

DavidTC said...

Question #5 really should be first. Because many conspiracy theories literally don't make sense from a motive standpoint, because at some point people just start throwing in anything even slightly odd they can find and building a theory around it.

Getting back to the 911 Truthers, there was once an absurd conspiracy in there that the planes that were flown into the WTC, or maybe just the Pentagon plane, were fake planes. That they were missiles with holograms around them. (And presumably they just use bulldozers and stuff for Flight 93?) They proved this by locating a plane with the same tail markings or something, claiming it was one of the supposedly destroyed planes. And that the passengers were either fake, or shot.

Ignoring the 'holograms like that don't actually exist' thing for a moment, why the _hell_ would anyone doing a multi-billion dollar mass murder not only not use the actual planes, but then to _resell_ them? I mean, even assuming you could resell 767s like that without, you know, tons of documentation and maintenance history and, like, where the hell did it come from, there's a finite amount of 767s ever made. 767s aren't like cars, you can't just fake a VIN and pawn it on to some unsuspecting rube.

But even if you _could_, why would you? To save a few hundred million dollars?

This is because someone said 'Hey, same tail marking, must be the same plane!' and invented all sorts of nonsense to support it.

David Brin said...

I agree about Oswald. His skills were up to the job, his passionate nuttery and job placement... well, the thing that feeds suspicion in my mind isn't Oswald, but Ruby. Now THAT story sets off my Spidey sense. Yeah, someone wanted silence. I'll give em that.

john fremont said...

@David TC I work in aviation maintenance, registration numbers are reassigned from time to time by the FAA. That was one of the things that made me back off from these conspiracy theories years ago. I heard the late Mike Ruppert on Coast to Coast one night talking about how the government took over the autopilots on those airliners and flew them into the WTC. I knew of no autopilot system, FAA approved , that was not designed in its control laws, to ignore input from the pilot's controls*. Miltary aircraft can be remotely guided in air interception missions but the pilot can still override any input from the tactical uplink by moving the yoke, rudder pedals etc. Anyhow, I knew that Mike Ruppert was peddling a lot of BS about 9/11=Inside Job. He could have just stuck to documenting the propaganda put out by the Bush Administration regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom and been more credible

*The 737 MAX MCAS is a more recent design.

David Brin said...

And the 737 Max can be pilot overridden --- IF you know HOW. Which is the culpable aspect for Boeing. That and dumbly trying to eke another 40 passengers in a plane designed for 40 less.

Jon S. said...

I recall hearing, and will try to find the source again later, that Oswald really, really wanted to join the KGB and be a mole in the US, but KGB agents who met with him found that he was too mentally unstable to be used. The writer hypothesized that Oswald may have assassinated Kennedy with the idea that doing so would be his audition of sorts for his dream job of professional treason.

Most conspiracy theories I've been exposed to, however, founder on the simple question - why?? Why go to all that effort to fake plane hijackings/assassinations/the lunar landing (which also falls apart on a number of other fronts, but that's one that conspirators can't seem to find a response for)?

I do have a favorite "conspiracy theory", though - that NASA was trying to set up a fake-moon-landing set, but the cost got so high they decided it would be cheaper and easier just to really land on the Moon.

scidata said...

I will mention Moon Landing Deniers (MLDs) only because the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 is next month, and because of a brief encounter I once had with Elliot Gould.

"Capricorn One" (1977) was about a failed mission to Mars and the staged lie that portrayed it as a success. A good romp, although it's tough to watch because of a warm and lovable performance by O.J. Simpson. I've even heard MLDs refer to it as a template for their theory.

Somewhere about half way between 1977 and today, I happened across Elliot Gould (the main star of that movie) while he was sitting alone one morning in a shopping mall in suburban Toronto, probably waiting for some minor media event. Shades of Galaxy Quest ("By Thor's Hammer - w-w-what a savings"). I usually don't bother stars (they cherish privacy). However since we were both alone, I greeted him and told him that Capricorn One was an old favourite of mine (especially since it used the LEM, a ship I once had every plastic model of ever designed). He cringed. He gently snorted. It occurred to me that he must have endured years of conspiracy types fawning over that movie. I quickly assured him that science had triumphed in my case and that his great acting together with the great cast was why I liked it (all true). I'm not sure which side of things Elliot Gould wound up on (strangely, he once narrated a conspiracy film about Vladimir Komarov). Conspiracy can haunt one forever like a phantom just over their shoulder. Wherever he is, I wish him peace - a deep and kind gentleman.

We children of Apollo now live in a less Asimovian time. We must teach the young to remember and to dream like that again. Almost 20 years ago, in the early days of the ISS, I looked up the time for a local flyover and dragged my least scientific son down to a park near our home to watch it. It appeared like clockwork. Not visually impressive (barely visible in fact), but undeniable in its velocity and altitude - artificial yet real. No hoax, plane, or random space rock could perform what his bare eyes showed him. Best few minutes I ever spent with him, and one of the most effective innoculations a parent can give a child. No agonizing pontification from dad needed. I'd love to be a fly on the wall the next time some MLD tries to bamboozle that young man with crazed theories about 'staged' spaceflight.

Calculemus!

locumranch said...


It is either Hanlon's or Heinlein's razor that cautions one to "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence" (examples follow):

(1) The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear catastrophe that innumerable trustworthy experts judged impossible.

(2) The collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge created by an exemplary all-female design team.

(3) The unprecedented & unexpected defeat of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump in 2016 US Presidential Election.

(4) The vast Murdoch-Saudi-Putin-Rothschild-GOP consortium of EVIL oligarchs that strives ceaselessly to vanquish social progress, democracy & science at every turn.

Were these outcomes the product of some far-reaching international conspiracies involving Russian Collusion?

Or, could these very same outcomes be attributed to the overwhelming incompetence of those trustworthy experts who eventually proved themselves unworthy of said trust?

It's incompetence first; it's incompetence forever; and, it's incompetence always.

It's incompetence, not conspiracies, all the way down.

We are our own worst enemies when we attempt to blame our personal failures & incompetence upon a conspiracy of others.


Best

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

I'm not at all keen on "Conspiracy" theories
The Russians have a saying that two men can keep a secret - as long as one of them is dead

But I do wonder about the "passive assistance" theories

Bush 2 - he was warned about Bin Laden plotting an attack - did he decide NOT to put the resources into trying to find and stop it - because he WANTED something to divert the US people?

The old "Blind Eye" to the telescope approach

Same with Trump - he did not "conspire" with the Russians - just did what they wanted

David Brin said...

scidata, cool stories! Though it's "By GRIPthor's hammer...."

locum recites to us the incantation he says when looking in a mirror. And yes, it applies to himself. But of course there was no Gleiwitz Incident or Tonkin Gulf sham. The Reichstag fire was an accident and Pearl Harbor was incompetence in those running a perfectly okay Japanese exercise.

The Watergate burglars WERE incompetent! Though in service to a conspiracy.

Alas, in response to a thoughtful list of nine methods to test conspiracy theories, he offers us... an incantation.

john fremont said...

@Duncan Cairncross

Which is what Timothy Snyder says, conspiracy involves equals, Trump was a tool, not a partner, for the Russians.

Daniel Duffy said...

Lt. Worf of ST:TNG had the best answer to anyone who believes in conspiracy theories, the deep state, is an anti-vaxxer or climate denier or Fox News watcher:

"Then die in ignorance. I can waste no more time on you."

Seriously, I'm tired of being nice to these idiots.

David Brin said...

Mueller says there's absolute proof that DT did everything involved in a conspiracy EXCEPT the prim, bend-over-backwards burden-of-proof definition, agreeing in detail how to collude to achieve illegal ends that he blatantly sought, approved of and rewarded.

Mueller did NOT say that agreement in detail never happened. He only said he could not prove it. Thus protecting what everyone knows is a continuing counter-intelligence investigation.

Daniel Duffy said...

You can find a lot of fascinating historical research on Oswald in Steven King's excellent novel "11/22/63".

I also recommend the mini-series starring James Franco on Hulu.

john fremont said...

@David Brin

Yes, that is on Boeing for not providing thorough training to their customers. On the other hand, squeezing even more from legacy aircraft designs has become commonplace in the industry. As an FAA spokesperson said recently, we would need another 9000 engineers and inspectors just to review flight control software for the newer aircraft designs coming to the market. So the FAA has ceded a lot of the legwork of type certifications over to the manufacturers.This has lessened the reciprocal accountability that grew the aerospace industry in the United States. The manufacturers continue to go with what worked to save money for bigger dividends.

scidata said...

One of the funniest scenes from Capricorn One, that refers to Watergate and JFK.

Yes, Gripthor's Hammer. I must have been distracted by the computer repeater's uniform :)

Donald Gisselbeck said...

Part of the problem is what I clumsily call "failure of reciprocal deference to expertise". Take the stereotypical diesel mechanic who thinks global warming is a liberal hoax. This mechanic has spent decades learning the craft with the help of an enormous body of knowledge assembled by other experts. Why is it so hard for this person to accept that climate scientists would have similar expertise?

David Brin said...

DG that's why I call for wagers. Your deisel mechanic will at least partly back down when it is a matter of honor money over something that can easily be proved, like ocean acidification. Which is why Locum's Law applies to liberals! Who fail to even notice these weak points in the Idiocracy's wall.

Re Oswald, did any of you see the two part Quantum Leap episode that was the first counter attack ever, against the JFK conspiracy cults?

I head to DC tomorrow.

Howard Brazee said...

I was thinking of the movie "Moon", where the conspiracy had to be much, much more expensive for the Big Business bad guys than just mining the Moon normally.

Daniel Duffy said...

Donald: the real reason the diesel mechanic does not believe in AGW is that if climate change was a real threat his entire career and life would be ruined since diesel fuel (and all fossil fuels) would have to be banned and replaced with renewables.

Jesus said it best: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

The thing about renewables is that in real terms (when you factor in land costs for wind farms and solar arrays, battery storage facilities for when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, etc.) renewables are more expensive than compact, high energy density, easily transportable and cheap fossil fuels. A complete and sudden switch from fossil fuels to renewables would in effect leave everyone (not just billionaire oil oligarchs) a lot poorer.

Recently, the costs of renewables have come down with technological advances and economies of scale as their use increases. The future looks promising with solar and wind being cheaper than coal and natural gas in many parts of the country. We can only hope that these trends continue.

But until then nobody is going to make themselves poorer by radically dropping fossil fuels and adopting renewables if it means that their energy costs (and thus their entire cost of living) increases in real terms, making them poorer in real terms. This is true even if their house in the Midwest is destroyed by record floods, their California home is burnt to the ground by wildfires, or their expensive beach front house is wiped out by a category 5 hurricane.

It would take a massive increase in secondary related costs caused by global warming (sky high insurance premiums for beach front homes or those homes becoming un-insurable, a spike in food prices, etc.) to change this equation.

But by that time it will be too late.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Daniel
You are about 10 years behind the times!
Wind, Solar and Storage is CHEAPER now than the very cheapest hydro and natural gas

For some reason all of the expensive analysts are all behind the times - I could buy solar panels for $0.44 a watt four years ago - that's me buying a pallet load - but I see well paid "analysts" talking about $2/watt to an industrial user

Same with batteries Chevy were selling replacement Volt packs for $4k - $250/kWh - while the analysts were talking about a COST of $500/kWh

Renewables are CHEAPER - and that is even with the huge subsidies that fossil fuel gets

Daniel Duffy said...

Duncan, I sincerely hope you are right.

However, for now, the Saudis cold easily wipe out this cost advantage by flooding the market with cheap oil - enough to snuff out competition from renewables.

And there are other costs involved that nobody is talking about. Example: battery disposal. Even the best rechargeable battery wears out over time and will no longer take a charge. Disposing of these batteries will be a major toxic waste disposal problem. Throw in the costs of disposing of worn out EV batteries. So will the disposal of PVCs, which also wear out (current warranties for solar roof top arrays are 10 to 20 years).

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Daniel
The vast majority of solar panels are the silicon/glass ones - they are expected to degrade to 90% after 30 years - and will still keep on going after that
As far as disposal is concerned - glass, aluminium, silicon, copper - ALL recyclable and non toxic

Battery disposal
EV batteries are NOT going to be a problem - each one will have a second life as home storage and then after all that an EV battery has several hundred dollars worth of materials - NOT toxic materials - NOBODY will landfill them
Smaller batteries for laptops and phones are more of an issue but EV and home storage batteries are simply worth too much money

Right NOW you will have difficulty finding somebody to recycle an EV batter but with Tesla making 500,000 cars a year and expecting to make 5 million cars a year soon people WILL be setting up operations to do that -

I'm not at all sure that the Saudis COULD "flood the market" long enough to make a difference - that would need a couple of years of "flooding" while everybody and his cat was filling every available container with the cheap oil

locumranch said...


I cite Heinlein's Law & David rebukes me, which implies that David would have us believe that the technical expert classes were BLAMELESS in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear catastrophe, the Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse and Hillary Clinton's defeat by Donald Trump.

Instead, our resident technical expert class spokesperson attempts to shirk responsibility (aka 'accountability') for these epic failures by scapegoating a shadowy cabal of Elder Protocol conspiracists, which is the why & wherefore that the Enlightened West has become a shitshow of non-reciprocating accountability shirkers.

Oh, I see...

NO ONE in the technical expert classes is ever accountable for our epic failures because it's always someone else's fault.


Best

Bob Neinast said...

Returning to a different theme from our host, now NY Times columnist Charles Blow is suggesting that Lindsay Graham is being blackmailed:

"Charles M. Blow wonders if Lindsey Graham is being blackmailed; it's a fair question":

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/6/1/1861937/-Charles-M-Blow-wonders-if-Lindsey-Graham-is-being-blackmailed-it-s-a-fair-question

From a tweet on Friday: "Are you being blackmailed? Serious question. Help us understand what has happened to you. None of the explanations I've heard make sense. Does someone have compromising information on you? Just blink twice if you're being threatened."

Not to get all conspiratorial (see how I brought this back to the topic of this post?), but the hypothesis does do a fairly good job explaining the behavior of a lot of the Republican leadership. Can we divide Republicans into the compromised and the crazy?

scidata said...

There's definitely something. That boy just ain't right.

David Brin said...

BN of course it's blackmail.
http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/blackmail.html

It's why I re-cited this
https://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/02/an-open-letter-to-new-president-of-el.html?fbclid=IwAR1KLAW3-BYIU77ms6_lkqeTVDVQZiEdKpZ1XU7Gi7Vv_L1geFc2rNzVRGU

Alas, poor locum no longer even tries to notice when he offers himself up as an _example of the syndromes I describe. e.g. An anecdote re incompetence (and there are millions), thus proves there are NO anecdotes of competence. Look in any randome direction RIGHT NOW and you will see countless examples of the billions of cases of competence. Anecdote-supported zero-sum dyspeptic lord-sucking. Gotta be a vitamin deficiency.

Larry Hart said...

Bob Neinast:

"Charles M. Blow wonders if Lindsey Graham is being blackmailed; it's a fair question":


I think that's the obvious, Occam's Razor-best theory unless someone can propose a better one.

I wouldn't even ask it as a question. I'm willing to assert "Lindsey Graham is being blackmailed" as a statement of self-evident fact.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

Our pal loc seems determined to prove by example that Democracy must fail because people like himself will democratically elect to make it fail. We either have to disenfranchise people like him, thus proving ourselves to be hypocrites, or else let him cripple us by the rules of the game.

That seems to be the whole point of his posting here.

scidata said...

@Larry Hart

Courage. Chaos may be viral as in FT, but so is scientific thinking. And the beauty of the latter is that it's self-sustaining, not cannibalistic.

Treebeard said...

Every religion needs a Devil, and the Religion of Progress is no exception. If the Smart People, who have already established that they are the source of all that is good in the world, regular gods in the making, with the best credentials, the most virtuous virtue signals and the latest scientific models, keep getting so many things wrong, Occam's Razor suggests that there must be a conspiracy of devils working to thwart them. Satan, oligarchs, Russians, Confederates—it doesn't really matter what you call them, as long as you find some devils to blame for the Smart Peoples' failures so they don't lose any more credibility with the faithful.

john fremont said...

Back in 2017, Graham stated that Russian operatives had hacked into his campaign email server. So this speculation that Graham may be compromised isn't so outlandish.

https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/14/politics/lindsey-graham-hacking-russia-donald-trump/index.html

scidata said...

It's encouraging to see that the derogatory term 'Religion of Science' has been replaced with 'Religion of Progress'. It shows that scientific literacy is working its way into every nook and cranny. Lynn Margulis' "slow wave" in motion.

Larry Hart said...

Treebeard:

If the Smart People, who have already established that they are the source of all that is good in the world, regular gods in the making, with the best credentials, the most virtuous virtue signals and the latest scientific models, keep getting so many things wrong,


You engage in the same fallacy that the villains in Atlas Shrugged do when they try to entice John Galt into their circle by promising that his "gang" of industrialists will be given the sort of preferential treatment that other favored groups in their mafia set-up get.

Smart people aren't after worship as the source of all good. We'd be happy if the culture made use of the self-evident truths we find so blindingly obvious. And if you continually operate in defiance of reality and things don't work out for you, how is that the fault of those you are defying? Who's the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who doesn't follow him>?

It doesn't surprise me that you have no idea what smart people are like, though. I have the same problem trying to understand assholes.

Larry Hart said...

john fremont:

So this speculation that Graham may be compromised isn't so outlandish.


I don't even see why everyone is treating this theory as something difficult to defend. Far from seeming outlandish, I find it implausible that the blackmail theory isn't true.

Or, to crib from "Air Supply" :

I don't need your persuasion
'Cause I'm already there.

David Brin said...


JF, seriously, anyone who watches Lindsey Graham speak knows that something’s up regarding his… life-categories, in ways that may not appeal to his red constituents. He needs to read my blackmail appeal. It offers him a route to be relevant, even heroic and well-remembered across the sunset. Alas, he’ll choose delusions of short-term safety .

“it doesn't really matter what you call them, as long as you find some devils to blame for the Smart Peoples' failures so they don't lose any more credibility with the faithful.”

Har! Once again, cerebrally unable to imagine that others are not as mentally crippled as he is. Fist: look around and tell us which FIFTY lord-led nations cumulatively and together accomplished as much competent stuff as we have. How? By being exactly as competitively accountability seeking as your nutso accusation believes we’re not. Just because imbeciles who kneel before lords think of smart people as in cahoots, all that means is that they are imbeciles. We’re too busy competing with each other - in order to give you more options/wealth/choices — to hate you.

Of course the pathetic whine of the ent and the loc is that smart people are trying to replace the natural born despotic inheritance brat lords (the inbred, syphalitic 0.001% who suppressed criticism and almost always governed badly) with governance by maybe 5% (politicians, officers, civil servants, engineers, contractors etc) who regularly seek ratification or rejection by a majority of citizens who are motivated or allowed to vote. THAT is what they view as a usurpation-coup by the hated nerds.

Only even that is stooopidly wrong. Since the modern compact is also inherently competitive. And that is what these two doofs - and all their cult - frantically ignore. While claiming to be the ones supporting capitalism, they in fact undermine all forms of adversarial accountability, which are the fundamental processes of the nerd caste. Despite having their noses rubbed in this again and again, they simply cannot grasp or remember this — that the nerds (in our many millions) cannot conspire toward tyranny, because we are competing with each other, while the oligarchs do conspire to end competition.

You are the commies. Because there’s little diff tween commissars and oligarchs. Yes yes, you cannot find any neurons that can even remotely understand what I just said. We get that.

duncan cairncross said...

I'm treating you guys as a brains trust

Blockchain - I have just read Peter Diamandis's explanation which I would paraphrase as providing a way of "freezing" a lump of information so that it cannot be altered without leaving traces
That sounds useful - possibly very useful

But the whole "Bitcoin" thing appears to be completely different - the modern equivalent of Amsterdam's Tulip Bubble

What am I missing?

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

But the whole "Bitcoin" thing appears to be completely different - the modern equivalent of Amsterdam's Tulip Bubble

What am I missing?


If you're missing something, then I'm missing the same thing.

Every time the price of a Bitcoin increases in value, that is touted as proof that the concept is viable. To me, it is just the opposite. Wild swings in value might make for a good speculative investment vehicle, but not for a good unit of currency. And that second is what Bitcoin enthusiasts purport it to be.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

seriously, anyone who watches Lindsey Graham speak knows that something’s up regarding his… life-categories, in ways that may not appeal to his red constituents. He needs to read my blackmail appeal. It offers him a route to be relevant, even heroic and well-remembered across the sunset. Alas, he’ll choose delusions of short-term safety .


The thing is, the blackmail has to be over something more serious than simply "LG is LGBT". If he's hoping to keep that fact under wraps, I have to say that the train left the station a loooooooooooong time ago.

Much as I hate to mention Atlas Shrugged in a positive light again, he should simply do what Dagny Taggert did when blackmailers threatened to publicize her affair with Hank Rearden--admit it publicly herself and be done with it.

scidata said...

Re: cryptocurrency

Even those who know the tech pretty well are hesitant to teach or preach. It's a bit of a casino. (The/A) Blockchain is a distributed ledger (timestamped, tamper-resistant, linked list stored on many, many geographically dispersed machines identically). It is intended to decentralize money (and records/transactions in general) thus removing the need for banks, perhaps even central banks. That's the plan. The reality is a bit more 'oligarchic'. Caveat Emptor - Bigly.

For Paul Krugman and Adam Smith fans:
https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/adam-smith-hates-bitcoin/

Larry Hart said...

NY Times columnist Charles Blow points out the obvious. Meghan Markle didn't say anything untrue about Benedict Donald. What she did was to state a truth that everyone knows, but no one is allowed to mention out loud. In other words, she violated Republican Political Correctness. :

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/02/opinion/trump-princess-britain.html

...
But it was simply wrong to categorize Markle’s comments as nasty; they were simply factual. She said in a 2016 interview on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” that Trump was divisive and misogynistic and vocal about it.

Where’s the lie?
...

scidata said...

Nasty women offend the pussy grabber I guess.

Robert said...

I agree with DavidTC that "who benefits" is the first question to look at in a conspiracy theory. If Cui Bono fails, then you can stop right there. If it passes, you still need to ask the other questions - a very good list, DB.
On the JFK assassination, I lean towards the obvious non-conspiracy theory - Oswald wanted to impress the Soviets, who had dumped him. If there is a conspiracy, our host's lead - Ruby and the Mafia - is the best bet.
One semi-plausible conspiracy theory that I've always liked, but don't actually believe, is that Joe McCarthy was a Soviet agent. It passes the Who Benefits test with flying colors, but the picture of McCarthy as an out-of-control drunken thug out for attention and power is enough to explain everything. But you never, ever, hear about the Joe McCarthy/Soviet agent theory from right-wing conspiracy theorists. They'd rather believe the Eisenhower was Soviet agent.
Lindsey Graham is really, really obvious. Andrew Sullivan had a ball making fun of him in The Dish, when it was still running. Maybe he should try what some former Governor of New Jersey (pre-Christie, D) did: come out to distract attention away from the real scandal. Of course, it failed completely; reaction from both inside and outside the gay community to the Governor's stunt was uniformly hostile. Or, maybe, LG just couldn't handle those shirtless Putin pictures.
Maybe the most effective conspiracies are the ones that are discovered, but very difficult to actually prove (I'm talking about legal proof). Like the one going on right now.

Bob Pfeiffer

Larry Hart said...

Bob Neinast quotes Charles Blow:

From a tweet on Friday: "Are you being blackmailed? Serious question. Help us understand what has happened to you. None of the explanations I've heard make sense. Does someone have compromising information on you? Just blink twice if you're being threatened."


I realize I'm potentially defending Lindsey Graham here, but is it plausible that he is metaphorically "blinking twice" by making arguments in support of Trump which are not even internally consistent enough for anyone to accept at face value. Maybe he can't openly defy his Russian masters, but he expects that even the most obtuse have to realize that what's coming out of his mouth can't be anything he actually believes.

I wondered something similar about James Comey when he was trying to explain why he couldn't let it be known that the FBI was investigating candidate Trump at the same time it was imperative to let it be known that the FBI was investigating candidate Hillary.

When someone--Comey or Graham--defends a position with an argument that makes no logical sense, I perceive one of two possible reasons. One possibility is that they are being blatantly disingenuous to an audience who is supposed to be "in on the joke" as it were, accepting the argument because "we all know" and agree with the real reason. The other possibility is that they are acting out a hostage video, saying what they're compelled to say, but hoping the audience can perceive the nonsensical nature of their words and figure out that they don't really mean what they say.

Howard Brazee said...

Not only who benefits by having the conspiracy—but who wouldn't benefit by exposing it!

I mean, think of all of the politicians who wouldn't benefit by coming out with proof of any 50-year-old conspiracy!!

TCB said...

Larry Hart hath said:

When someone--Comey or Graham--defends a position with an argument that makes no logical sense, I perceive one of two possible reasons. One possibility is that they are being blatantly disingenuous to an audience who is supposed to be "in on the joke" as it were, accepting the argument because "we all know" and agree with the real reason. The other possibility is that they are acting out a hostage video, saying what they're compelled to say, but hoping the audience can perceive the nonsensical nature of their words and figure out that they don't really mean what they say.

I say, whatever happened to plain old courage? I can find many, MANY faults in Andrew Jackson, but I am confident what he'd have done to a blackmailer. Killed them in a duel, that's what.

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

Bitcoin is both a ‘tulip bubble’ and ‘frozen information’.

The frozen information is that some piece of value shifted from this account to that account. It’s ledger-like information.

The bubble part is what the tradeable equivalent of that shifted value is. That involves the Bitcoin exchange rate which goes up and down.

I’m not sure it is currently fair to compare it to tulips, though. That bubble burst a while back with the introduction of certain tradable contracts on legit markets. Up, up, up… then down, down, down. Many of us expected that. Some chose to try to ride that wave. Momentum traders play that kind of game.

Other cryptocurrencies freeze other information along with the basic monetary-like ledger amounts. Ethereum is intended to support fairly simple but smart contracts. The value it brings is the potential to cut out the middle layer players in international markets who are responsible for clearing and assurance activities. That possible price reduction in trades acts to influence how people put monetary value on the currency itself, so these kinds of currencies are less likely to be pure speculation plays for contracts involving them.

I’d bet Diamandis is mostly focused on the non-Bitcoin currencies that do and support more interesting things. As with all tradeable things, though, be wary. If you don’t know how to do your due diligence, you don’t belong in the market. Maaaaaybe dip your toes in through someone who does. I hope that is the signal he is giving.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Bitcoin is both a ‘tulip bubble’ and ‘frozen information’.


What it is not is a stable store of value.

Alfred Differ said...

What is? 8)


Something I learned in my first calculus class is that continuous functions tend to look like linear functions if you pick a small enough domain. It sounded a bit simplistic the first time around, but later when I learned about series and functional (e.g. polynomial) expansions it carried more meaning.

In financial markets, people like their stability as a measure of safety, but dig deeper and what they are really buying and selling is predictability. Many look at whether they can make money when prices go up or down, but the market makers have to do it both ways. THEY buy and sell volatility especially the unpredictable type of volatility. If it is too easy to predict, no one makes much as a middleman. 8)

Howard Brazee said...

However, bankers make money by stable *change*. When interest rates lag either way for lenders and borrowers, predicting which way the lag goes makes them money.

Larry Hart said...

@Alfred,

We're having two different conversations.

You're all about cryptocurrencies as investment vehicles, and I have nothing against that as long as everyone involved knows that that's what they're doing.

I'm talking about cryotocurrencies as something you get paid in and then use to buy groceries with, or pay your cable bill, or taxes. They just don't seem well suited for that purpose to me. Too volatile.

David Brin said...

From Bill Bishop at Sinocism: "
Read in browser

Pence China speech; Wang Qishan getting involved in US talks?; June 4
Jun 4 Public post
Hi everyone, I decided to make today’s issue of the newsletter free. If you like what you see please sign up for the Sinocism China Newsletter here. Group and education discounts are available. —Bill

June 4.

The Chinese Communist Party is afraid of ghosts and incorrect memories. It has done a good job of reshaping the history for most people born after 1989, and yet every year around June 4 the security services and censors go into overdrive to prevent any discussion of what really happened in early June 1989.

"30 years ago China was barely a decade past the end of the Cultural Revolution and the death of Mao, poor, backward and teeming with frustration, respect for America, hope, and intellectual ferment.

"30 years on, China is rich, powerful, ambitious and led by the Communist Party that responded to the aftermath of the crackdown with decades of nationalist education, hardening of its security services and the pursuit of politically correct intellectual homogeneity. The failures of other pro-democracy uprisings, the resulting chaos in many countries where they succeeded as well as the crises in established democracies have been a gift to the CCP and its propaganda efforts and further reduce the likelihood we will in the foreseeable future again see anything like what we saw 30 years ago.'

Alfred Differ said...

They are actually the same conversation, but you have to be an investor to see it I think.

People invest in stable currencies too for the same reason you accept them as payment for your salary. It's not just FOREX stuff either. When you work a few hours and agree to get paid later, you ARE an investor in the stuff they use to pay you. In a free market, you could cut a deal with your employer to be paid in this or that and they would talk to their financials people to arrange for investments that delivered stable values in the 'currency' of your choice by buying volatility protection. The more volatile your currency of choice is, the more it would cost them, thus they'd probably bring that right back to you as a cost to you, but in theory it could be done.

Stable currencies are useful because the costs of trading in them tend to be very low, but if you wanted to be paid in bushels of corn, you could accept futures contracts or options on them and then trade them for dollars before expiration dates and never actually deal with the corn itself. This isn't all that far off from what corn farmers do when they borrow, plant, reap, and settle contracts.

Much of what we do financially can be cast in the language of investments. Many, many things that don't look like it are actually options, futures, or options on futures. Low volatility allows for some simplifications, but its still useful to see these things as what they really are.

Larry Hart said...

@Alfred,

I'm not really arguing against you. I'm arguing against Bitcoin proponents who talk as if cryptocurrency is superior to American dollars because they are immune to government manipulation, while ignoring the regular fluctuations in value which make the Fed look like Ayn Rand. My point is that most people who get paid for a job and use that money for day to day expenses are thinking like me more than they're thinking like you, and so for them (us), a currency whose value can change by orders of magnitude isn't really "currency".

I also get that I'm quite America-centric in this regard. I've heard the argument that Bitcoin is a godsend if you want to conduct business in Somalia or Venezuela--places where the local currencies are essentially worthless. So maybe there is a place for cryptocurrencies in certain regions of the world. I just don't see them taking the place of the American dollar any time soon. For all the flaws of the Fed, even with Trump's finger on the scale, I've learned to my chagrin these past decades not to bet against the dollar.

Alfred Differ said...

Some of the Bitcoin proponents sound to me like the folks who place too much trust in gold and silver. They are Believers... or Fraudsters. It's not easy to tell the difference when facing an experienced con-man.

I certainly don't take my salary in Bitcoin and don't have any investment positions in it right now. For what I think are good reasons too. The folks who say it can't be manipulated by government are simply wrong. Watch what happens to the exchange rate when some government says they intend to investigate one of the exchanges. What government can't do is ISSUE or remove it from circulation. That's all. 8)

If a cryptocurrency is ever going to challenge the USD, it won't be Bitcoin. It will be one of the others that is used to denominate smart contracts. Those are in their infancy... really, really, really young. They will matter some day because of their potential to further globalize trade and cut the waiting time involved with trust agents in transactions. If you do software for a living, they are worth learning because of how blockchain works... not because people speculate on the value of things.

scidata said...

The interesting thing about Blockchain and its meteoric rise is that it's based on long-existent concepts (mainly distributed computing and linked lists). Like evolution, great ideas take time to ripen - Steven Johnson describes this as a "Slow Hunch". This is the reason I've never given up on Forth, since first using it almost 50 years ago.

The early verification code for Bitcoin was obviously written by a Forth programmer. Astronomical observatories, space probes, cryptocurrency, proper evolutionary models, and 'Willian' computational psychohistory have one thing in common. They all had Forth in their DNA early on. It's more a method of silicon-aided thinking than it is an application development language. The age of apps has passed. We're now in the age of APIs and machine-machine chatter. A new sort of biology is emerging. For example, the infrastructure that runs cryptocurrency is 99.999% automated. Trump's base is caught in the headlights, and the speeding truck bearing down on them is driverless. It'll take a lot more than bullets to stop that monster. And no, I'm not rooting for the truck. I neither own nor profit from it.

Take Dr. Brin's "Why Johnny Can't Code", replace BASIC with Forth, put a $5 ROM-based Spockian calculator in every school bag, and you will get us to Titan 10 years sooner. And the Centauri system 100 years sooner. Let the 'Star Trek fantasy' ridicule commence. However, remember that you'll be spewing that derision using technology that was 120-proof SF not so long ago.

scidata said...

BTW Dr. Brin, June 4, 1989 was a hugely significant date for me. I'm not ignoring your post, I'm just not talking about it.

TCB said...

I remember seeing Henry Kissinger on the TV offering his opinion on the events of June 4, 1989. He said it would be a mistake for the US to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation. Boy, that Kissinger! Never caused a day's trouble for anyone, anywhere! That would be WRONG! Oh, but these protesters were pro-democracy? Nope! No interfering!

Later on I read that he was in cahoots with early Western investors in the emerging China market. No sir! No conflict of interest there!

Larry Hart said...

scidata:

Trump's base is caught in the headlights, and the speeding truck bearing down on them is driverless. It'll take a lot more than bullets to stop that monster. And no, I'm not rooting for the truck.


I am.

duncan cairncross said...

Cryptocurrencies

To me the fact that the government cannot add subtract or change the currency is a HUGE HUGE disadvantage

It's like driving a car and throwing the steering wheel away - you are right back in the stupidities of the Gold Standard and it's massive slowing of progress

As we build more factories and make everything more efficient THEN the money supply NEEDS to increase

Money is the transfer mechanism - the blood that carries oxygen and nutrients to the muscles

An elephant needs MORE blood than a mouse

Jon S. said...

Every time Bitcoin-as-currency is discussed (which, thankfully, isn't as common as it once was), I'm reminded of a joke:

A young boy goes to his father and says, "Dad, can I have one Bitcoin?"

"Eight thousand dollars??" his father replies. "Why do you need $12,000? What could you even want $5000 for?"

Larry Hart said...

@Jon S,

Your joke illustrates a point I've been trying to make. As long as consumers perceive the value of a Bitcoin in terms of how many dollars that Bitcoin is worth at the moment, then the Bitcoin itself is not really being perceived as currency. If we ever reach the point when your natural tendency is not to translate into dollars, but to feel the number of loaves of bread (or cars, or admissions to Disney World--whatever) the Bitcoin can command for you, then I'll be more impressed.

David Brin said...

One of the calamities of the euro was that it locked countries with poor trade positions and poor budget control to those with good ones. Greece and Italy cannot devalue their currency, as they could in the past.

Jon S. said...

And with its fluctuations, you'd be talking about taking your bitcoin to the store to buy 10,000 loaves of bread - wait, 13,000 - er, 5000...

It's difficult to work with a currency whose value changes constantly. And unpredictably. How do you go shopping with your bitcoin if you have no idea when you leave the house how much your wallet will be worth when you get to the checkout?

Larry Hart said...

@Jon S,

I hope you don't think we're disagreeing here. I meant the exact same thing.

reason said...

I could put my economist hat on and point out that money has three purposes, two of which oppose one another (which is why managing is not always straight forward).

1 a unit of account - i e it is what we agree to exchange to settle a bill. For this you want the value to be stable or at least predictable
2. A store of value - if I make money now and want to spend it later I want it to retain value (for this purpose inflation is bad).
3. A means of exchange, which will require that there is sufficient around and in circulation to enable all the parallel transactions. For this purpose deflation is bad because people can gain by keeping money out of circulation (i e. hoarding it.) For the purpose of keeping money circulating it is best if you pay a cost for keeping it for a long tine (i e. Some inflation is a good thing).

So the gold bugs are mostly only interested in point 2 - i.e. they want to hoard. Note that it takes resources to hoard gold and doesn't pay interest. As Paul Krugman points out, real gold prices go up when real interest rates are low, not always when inflation is high.

Bitcoin isn't good for any of this, it is basically speculative. It has value for criminals and people who don't trust their own currencies at all.

reason said...

Oh and bitcoin is probably great for the guy that started it. Like some other scams. But it is catastrophic for the environment.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Alfred Differ said...

Devaluation of your currency harms your citizens. It might be slightly better than defaulting on it, but it still does harm. PLANNING to devalue your currency should be viewed as planned failure of every citizen not able to hedge against it.

The dollar in your pocket DOES change value constantly. It's a small change that supermarkets tend to ignore over the short term, but they can't ignore it over a longer term. Neither can you.

Yes... the elephant needs more blood than a mouse, but that's not how these things work. If I can transact for a loaf of bread today using $1 and 36 years from now get the same kind of loaf for $1/2 I'm in okay shape if my salary has dropped to 50% of its dollar value today. (I'm approximating. Obviously I'd have to consider a basket of goods instead of a loaf of bread.) If I can buy the loaf at $2, I'd want my salary to double (at least) in those years. Both options leave me (average citizen) unharmed. That's probably not the case for people at the low end of the earning scale, though, because their salaries are less likely to adjust to match. They don't have the economic power higher earners do. Therefore, planned inflation tends to do low intensity harm over many years even at low inflation rates.

Bitcoin users intentionally planned a maximum number that could be issued and intentionally planned for deflation in the currency. The most likely long term trend for the exchange rate to USD, therefore, is for growth to match how many bitcoins are left to be issued instead of how many are in circulation. Both will matter, of course, but the issuance cap is intentional and it matters. If I'm buying two loaves of bread 36 years apart and I pay 1/2 the bitcoins then that I would today and USD inflation runs at 2% annually, it works out okay. Of course that isn't likely with Bitcoin, but with one of the other cryptocurrencies it might. Who knows?

Alfred Differ said...

oops. onward.

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David Brin said...

I’ve been in DC. About a dozen talks/meetings. Too busy to blog or post. But I can report a couple of items. First that NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine appears to have been surprisingly earnest, focused and willing to learn. He and some enlightened members of Congress have protected NASA’s technology development programs from being raided for a moondoggle. The sort of thing happening all over town.

LH & AD. Economists are terrified of deflation, even a smidgen, since it encourages folks not to buy anything. A small amount of inflation can be compensated for with some modest policy adjustments.

JE, the latest new of mergers in the auto industry frighten me. Autos are the one major industry where there are enough players to ensure genuine competition resulting in better/cheaper cars (after inflation) every year.

More... but brief stuff then an onward.

David Brin said...

onward

onward