Sunday, July 12, 2020

Friends and enemies. The military. And what might a "good billionaire" do?

Two powerful groups could make a difference in this crisis... one of them by staying aloof and professional but making their loyalty clear. The other can take decisive and bold action individually, even out of whim!

I've said for years the greater part of the U.S. Military Officer Corps is inherently on our side, for many reasons, though they desperately hope they'll never be asked to step in explicitly, as Praetorian protectors of the Republic vs. internal enemies.  I'll get to that, in a minute.

But first, what could a billionaire, or sub-billionaire, who is loyal to Western Civilization, do that could be decisive at this critical time?

There are many rich folks who feel loyalty to this Great Experiment that gave them everything. They're grateful especially for vast numbers of nerdy creative types who made all their successes and toys and interests possible.  For every mafiosi, KGB-oligarch, gambling lord or inheritance brat, there is some tech-mogul who does not want this unique experiment to dissolve into just another boring feudalism -- especially given feudalism's dismal record of bad governance. And so, many of these folks are donating large sums to PACs aimed at slashing the puppet strings used by Putin, MBS and others to revive treason and confederacy.

But there are better ways a good zillionaire could spend this money. Some of them, like Nicolas Berggruen, Bill Gates and Mark Cuban seek their own paths to enhance democracy... and I offer over a dozen potentially original methods in Polemical Judo.

But down below, in this posting, I'll summarize just one. One that might make the biggest difference.  In fact, it cannot help but make a difference... and possibly save the American Republic.

== The military may be our friend. Get used to it ==

First though, take the time. Read this short letter from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley to all American forces, that was all in the news a few weeks ago. 

The US military officer corps isn't just deeply committed to civilian rule and law. They are also the third-best educated clade in American life and the most dedicated to fact-centered, pragmatic problem-solving. George Marshall and Harry Truman desegregated the military knowing it was the one move creating momentum against prejudice, from which there'd be no turning back. 

Yes, they are imperfect, as are we all. But if we spurn these skilled and principled and loyal men and women, we are doing Putin's work for him.

demographic profile of the U.S. military verifies the officer corps is much better educated than the average public and at higher ranks they equal college professors, which many become, after retirement. Enlisted personnel are also demographically above average. And while I am disturbed that Fox News blares out of the TVs in many noncom ready rooms, the proliferation of racial minorities and women in important jobs helps me feel pretty confident we’ll see loyalty, if the Putinists try to trigger civil war. (Though national guard units in some southern states might be iffy.)

And I wrote the above before news broke of strong intel that Russian agencies offer bounties on American lives in Afghanistan.  At which point, I stopped worrying about a possibly lethal split between officers and noncoms, if 'the balloon goes up.' And I welcome reports from any of you, whether the channels are changing on those nocom lounge TVs.

ADDENDUM: Another respected republican comes out against Trump... Former defense secretary William Cohen, a veteran Republican senator, says a second Trump administration would mean the end of American democracy.   See also: “How Trump Lost the Military.” And for some related polemic -- See the Court Martial of Donald TrumpSurely Putin/Murdoch are as surprised as liberals seem to be, by the fierce loyalty to the constitution of our officer corps.

== The coming wave of cheating ==

Okay, we need one more clue. Alas, this alarming list of currently perfected and plausibly-prepared Republican electoral cheats is all-too realistic! The only way to prevent it is by making this a tsunami election, so overwhelming that they don't dare. And even in that case, the cheating will simply shift from the lost presidential race to preserving obscure State Assembly and State Senate positions, where America's real power lies. We need maps showing which LOCAL precincts might be pivotal, if "isolated cases" of fraud disenfranchise a few thousand. 

And Stacey Abrams's voter registration drive must have a second phase. Now ask everyone you know if they are registered. Then ask "Have you checked?"  And yes, many of these aspects are in Polemical Judo.

Okay, let's go back to where we started and put these pieces together.

== Zillionaires who want to save enlightenment… and themselves ==

Abigail Disney helped establish Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy Americans concerned about rising income inequality, who favor higher taxes on the wealthy. “In the U.S., executive compensation has increased by 940% since 1978; during the same period, worker pay has risen twelve per cent. Income inequality hasn’t been this extreme since the nineteen-twenties. Under the 2017 G.O.P. tax bill, the 400 richest Americans pay a lower over-all tax rate than any other group.”

An important article… that leaves out the biggest reasons why the smarter zillionaires - including many of the tech guys - are supporting Democrats. First, competitive market enterprise simply does better under democrats. Period. Almost always, and its most fecund/productive era was during the aftermath of FDR, until the supply side experiments that started our decline in all metrics, beginning with Reagan.  See: economic outcomes vs. rhetoric.

Second, we mentioned how those tech guys owe their fortunes to working side-by-side with middles class engineers who were trained at magnificent public universities. Some still remember who helped them thrive.

Third, while returning to feudalism may sound good to overprivileged male inheritance brats, in fact, our science-loving, educated, transparent and middle class society has out produced the total of all other nations and societies, summed across all of the last 6000 years.

Fourth - patriotism… the blatant association of the Republican Party with the made-over KGB, with Salafist fanatics, Earth-wreckers and others who have systematically torn down American sciences, alliances and the very rule of law that has made it the safest time to be rich.

Which leads us to the biggest reason that many rich folks are veering away from today’s mad oligarchic putsch.  The same reason the ruthless depression era bootlegging millionaire Joseph Kennedy supported FDR… “because I’d rather lose half my wealth to help the middle class than lose it all to angry mobs.”  The imbecile ‘preppers’ who think they can fund wars against all fact-professions and crush all the smartypants ‘boffin’ castes actually think we don’t know where their survivalist hidey-holes are. We who know nuclear science, geneticism cyber and all the rest.

The smartest zillionaires know it’s time for a reset for one reason. Because they can spell the word “tumbrels.”

== And finally... that one thing a zillionaire could do to save the day ==

This was a long posting, but our foundation is laid, now - the coming wave of cheating, the fact that some of the rich realize their time to act has arrived. And so...

The one thing would be to offer whistleblower prizes. Big ones. For any henchman or contractor or aide who knows about a coming cheat. Some scheme now in-motion to purge voter rolls, or to "accidentally shutter polling stations, or lose or invalidate mail-in ballots, or to pervert voting machines, to stir violence... or even to bypass the clear will of the people.

Think about it. Plots and schemes need henchmen! The almost-universally corrupt Republican Secretaries of State in red states cannot do it alone. They have helpers, co-conspirators, foot-soldiers and bribed programmers... any of whom might record a skulking, Bond-villain meeting or copy documents or simply come out in the open. And thus spoil the whole scheme.

This is the greatest fear of the Cabal. It is why their desperate efforts for four years have been to prevent light and transparency from pouring across the land. They know their servants in DC and state capitals and boardrooms are fickle, and so they use more than mere money... tools like blackmail and other threats...

...but a liberal zillionaire needn't erect anything complex, just a prize! And offer to pay legal bills. And heck, throw in some personal security protection, why not? In exchange for an evidence-backed denunciation of plots against Americans' civil rights. 

Dig it: just the announcement of such prizes might terrify some plotters into shutting down!

If you can think of a simpler way for a sub-billionaire to make a crucial difference in our current crisis, you are welcome to offer it below, in comments. But that's my number one. I've been pushing is since the last century. 

And this may be our last chance to see someone step up. Step up to save us all.


David Brin said...

Of course the devil is in the details. Such a zillionaire would want to line up things carefully to protect against legal jeopardies, but those perparations would likely be easy, since the whistle blower can be referred to a confidential committee that's insulated from the funder! There can be sliding scales in which those with clear evidence and proof are better rewarded. At different levels and in different ways, of course evidence of illegality should be passed on to authorities, but it can be done in ways that preserve the public's right to know, at a crucial time.

I go into some of this, in POLEMICAL JUDO. Alas, with zero sign that anyone in any position of power has ever read the damn thing.

duncan cairncross said...

From the last posting
Mini black hole - planet nine

The problem is that something would have fallen into it by now - releasing a lot of energy - a rain of rocks falling into its accretion disc would have given rise to local pulses of energy and we would have seen it

Don Gisselbeck said...

As someone who can often spell tumbrel correctly, let me repeat, I do not want equality of outcomes, only proportionality of outcomes. Any of these zillionaires who is twice as skilled and hardworking as the average Montana rancher should make twice as much. Anything less is unjust and a just cause for Revolution.

Chris Heinz said...

The ongoing destruction of the US has 1 ultimate cause: the elimination of the FCC Fairness Doctrine in 1987 by St. Reagan. This lead to the rise of Rush Blowhard & the proximate cause of the destruction of the hegemony of the US: Faux "News".
For the absolutely best way 1 or more of our many billionaires can waste their mostly completely unproductive $$$, I propose that a zillionaire, or a consortium thereof, buy Faux "News" & leave it exactly as is, but, just put a fact checker ticker or chyron at the bottom of the screen.

Alfred Differ said...

only proportionality of outcomes

I can't support that.

It is both unethical and an impossible standard... because we know the value of 'stuff' isn't related to the skill and labor put into it. Partially related... sure, but barely.

David Brin said...

only proportionality of outcomes"

I do not think that proportionality has to be linear. There is value in leadership and entrepreneurship and to the orchestration of capital. But any nonlinearity should be capped and have a steep decay when wealth approaches levels that translate into the power to cheat. Your second billion should be harder, not much easier, which is the case now.

CH yes re the Fairness Doctrine... have you seen Polemical Judo? It's right there on the list of needs.

But buying Fox only gives the Murdochs capital to move on and do other dastardly things.

Alfred Differ said...

Many things we do contribute value, but we don't know a way to quantify it until some transaction takes place. I'm VERY opposed to attempts to theorize the value of this or that skill and quality because

1) No mortal is that smart, no community that wise, and too many are foolish enough to believe they can.

2) The moment we do assign values, we have people with actual faces and names to blame when this or that skill is valued low and those people don't like it.

The first issue is about HUBRIS. We all are afflicted, but we make it dangerous when our behaviors are coherent/phase aligned. My way if obviously superior to yours... because my God says so. Seriously. I think this is a big component of the feudal attractor. We imagine ourselves too knowledgeable, too god-connected, too well supported by allies. Down that path lies coerced conformity that will kill our civilization.

We are wonderfully fortunate to have found a way to bring some of our arrogance into coherence to create science and our vast store of practical knowledge. With that wealth, we've managed to create an additional vast store of art, music and all that makes us happy humans. A big part of that way requires we NOT all be in phase, though.

The second issue is about INDIGNATION. When we know who f*cked us, we get violent. Look at the reactionaries opposing ethical behavior proposed by progressives. It's not that the ideas are all that bad. The problem is some of them get screwed (e.g. yet another generation of HS kids leaving for the cities) and they know who is screwing them.

We DO assign values anyway, but those show up in the less personal markets where they are safely diluted. The guy buying a hotdog at your curbside stand doesn't need to know how you assign values to his skills. What he doesn't know won't make him angry, let alone indignant.

I don't care whether relationships are linear or non-linear. I don't want us in the business of connecting personal behaviors to wealth outcomes unless absolutely necessary. Criminal behavior obviously has to be stopped, but we have the criminal law for that. We don't need to meddle with market valuations to point out cheaters. Doing so risks killing the golden goose, so I must oppose that.

B.J. said...

Not a zillionaire, but we've got a millionaire making an interesting move for transparency in San Fran by just...buying cameras to put up everywhere. Score a point for sousveillance!

Jon S. said...

"Any of these zillionaires who is twice as skilled and hardworking as the average Montana rancher should make twice as much."

Who decides? Is a man who can offhandedly code an app for an iOS device more or less skilled than a man who can hogtie and geld a calf, and how do you know?

A German Nurse said...

Whistleblowing sounds so easy when it really isn't. Considering you are a normal human person with decent ethical standards and some integrity, you will get into an inner turmoil.

The First Stage: Everything is normal. You are new to an institution and persons you will eventually "betray". You try to fit in, perhaps forming personal bonds to various persons. Warning signs you either ignore oder are simply ignorant of. You hear rumors and experience things that should, in retrospective, have sounded the alarm bells.

The Second Stage: One event or more events cause you to develop gnawing doubts. You maybe try to avert the gaze from the situation like a medusa's head, or you become more curious. Yet, you try to remain loyal, but it becomes harder each day. Near to the peak, you are in turmoil with feelings of fear, guilt, anger, betrayal, paranoia, righteousness, bravery, confusion and cluelessness. Your mental and probably your physical health start to deteriorate.

The Third Stage: You decide to spill the beans. You gather information, physical evidence, and plan your way out. The decision reduces the stress somewhat.

The Fourth Stage: Finally, you make it and go into the open. The turmoil is gone, but your career, sometimes your wealth, liberty, health and life are under constant attack now as the system detects you as a malignant organism to be rid of immediately. Even if you did your duty exceptionally, your days in the institution are numbered. Prepare to go (if you are not fired outright).

When I worked in mental health, I reported the heads of my department to HR because I assumed fraud. They wrote a disciplinary warning, and I sued them for it. They lost, and we settled a few months later. I never wanted to be in such a situation again, but, a few weeks ago, I had to report the sexual harassment of a co-worker to our workers council, who in turn had to inform management. We will see how bad it will get.

Whistleblowing isn't an easy thing to do (especially if there are no laws protecting you).

Larry Hart said...

Chris Heinz:

The ongoing destruction of the US has 1 ultimate cause: the elimination of the FCC Fairness Doctrine in 1987 by St. Reagan. This lead to the rise of Rush Blowhard & the proximate cause of the destruction of the hegemony of the US: Faux "News".

Don't forget the embarrassingly-frenzied rush to grant US citizenship to Rupert Murdoch, which made it legal for him to own a newspaper empire and a tv network.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"only proportionality of outcomes"

I can't support that.

It is both unethical and an impossible standard... because we know the value of 'stuff' isn't related to the skill and labor put into it.

You're both right...sort of.

Alfred understands that Jed Clampett didn't get to move to Beverly Hills because of the value of his personal skills. He got rich because the bubblin' crude on his property was valuable to buyers.

But if we accept that (and I think we do), then we have to put paid to the whole notion that the rich and poor alike deserve their wealth and poverty respectively--that it reflects upon their value as citizens and human beings. Because we've just accepted that monetary value has nothing to do with any of that.

My wife, who is a realtor, runs into an analogous situation all the time. Sellers will put large amounts of money into rehabs of their property which they expect to recoup as part of the selling price as a matter of course. She often has to explain that a $100,000 kitchen redo doesn't necessarily result in a commensurate increase in the selling price of the house.

And real estate offers another clue to the topic of this discussion. Just as in real estate, every transaction essentially begins with an asking price and a bidding price. The bidding price is Alfred's value of the thing unrelated to the work put into it--the value of the thing to the buyer. The asking price is what the seller would like to trade it for, and that might be related (though not exclusively) to the work put into the thing, or the perceived value of one's own skills on the open market. Both of those prices go into the making of a transaction, but if the asking and bidding prices are too far apart--if I absolutely won't let go of my house for less than $500K, but the market value is only $200K--then the transaction is simply not going to happen.

Larry Hart said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who notices how this works...

However, if Joe Biden is elected president, a constitutional amendment requiring pardons and commutations to get Senate approval might actually pass, since Republicans would be happy to rein in a Democratic president in any way they could.

Larry Hart said...

“I’d vote for a tuna fish sandwich before I’d vote for Donald Trump again.”

And there's not even a legal way a tuna fish sandwich could become president. Whereas there is a path by which my cat might do so (though a not very likely one involving the elevation of the Speaker of the House).

Dave Creek said...

The problem with bringing back the Fairness Doctrine is that it could be a danger to the First Amendment. I'm uncomfortable with the government regulating what's news and what isn't. Also, the FCC normally regulates broadcast licenses, not cable, so that would have to change somehow. Mostly, though, would we want the current Trump administration, or a future administration equally corrupt, to be in charge of such a doctrine? I don't think so.

Hailey said...

What about gifting a copy of Polemical Judo to some Dem reps and senators? Maybe with a free ebook code for some of their staffers? I'm not sure how gifting rules would affect that possibility though. But, if it is doable, it could increase the chance someone in power gets exposed to the ideas within, though the chance may still only be slight.

jim said...

Why would oligarch billionaires give money to the Democratic Party?

They could be buying “WOKE INSURANCE” from the corporate democrats. You know support the centrist middle of the road corporate dems to make sure nothing really changes.

The insurance companies seem to have successfully bought Biden and the only change that is likely is to go back to mandatory, shitty, expensive for profit insurance, but don’t worry it will come with huge deductibles and surprise billing. The banksters will be getting anything they want from the FED –(we are in an emergency – think of all the children who will be hurt if the banksters don’t get what ever they want.) The military industrial complex will continue with the forever wars, maybe even start a new one with Iran.

The green new deal will be an opportunity for immense graft – I am sure the oligarch billionaires already have plans for hovering up as much of those subsides as possible. The “professional, corporate dominated environmental groups” will be instrumental in creating the corporate friendly policies.

And hey the democrats will be working with the republicans to make sure poor white folk are fighting with poor black folks and poor hispanic folks, we can’t have the poor folks realize that there is much more to be gained working together against the interests of the wealthy.

And there will be lots of fine sounding pronouncements, some symbolic actions that look good, and far fewer obnoxious tweets.

But the situation we are in is bad and is unlikely to recover to where it was.
Biden does not have deep support from anyone and if things do not improve rapidly (or if people don’t see things improving rapidly) people will turn on him and “progressives and liberals” we be discredited.
Paving the way for a more effective fascist like Trucker Carlson in 2024.

Darrell E said...

I think that the free speech argument against the fairness doctrine is bogus. Even under the fairness doctrine journalists could still say whatever they want to say. Perhaps not as news. Perhaps they, or rather the broadcaster that publishes / airs them, may have to inform other parties and give them an opportunity to have their say as well, but that is hardly an untoward impingement of journalists' 1st Amendment rights.

It did impose more on news broadcasters. They could be required to present certain important issues. They were required to not lie. If they attacked someone they were required to inform that party that they had been attacked, give them a transcript and give them an opportunity to respond. But note that the fairness doctrine didn't disallow attacking another party.

I think it would be swell if we didn't have to make rules to require news broadcasters to be honest, accurate and fair. But that's not reality, as Fox News in particular has demonstrated. Arguing that not allowing them to be dishonest, inaccurate and unfair infringes their 1st Amendment rights is turning things upside down. The reason freedom of the press has been considered such an important principle is because of how vital an informed citizenry is considered to be for a society like ours, by the people for the people. The press being vital to that end needs to be able to see just about anything and tell it to the public. The fairness doctrine doesn't infringe on that one little bit. To be clear, there is a real distinction between individuals and news broadcaster's with respect to 1st Amendment rights. Just as there is a real distinction between individuals and corporations.

However, I acknowledge the problem of "who determines when the rules have been broken." That is a serious problem, always. But that truth is not sufficient reason in and of itself to suppose that therefore having no rules is better.

And I've no problem acknowledging that the fairness doctrine wasn't a perfect way to regulate news broadcasters. But that doesn't mean that repealing it was a good choice or that regulation of some sort isn't unwarranted period.

David Brin said...

AGN, yes of course whistleblowing is hard. That is the whole idea behind some zillionaire offering a set of big prizes to ease the decision, propelling the moral step with protection and self-interest.

Dave Creek, it is quite possible to demand that public airwaves feature debate and rebuttal at a reasonable ratio. Fox would be devastated by 1 minute of rebuttal for every 20 minutes of their rantings. And no one with positive or neutral quality of product would be hurt by that much critique. Free Speech is more than some sacred principle. It is also justified by the pragmatic outcomes of lateral, competitive rivalry and quality control.

In fact, without the latter, the former is all too easily overwhelmed by other values.

Hailey, I have tried to get Polemical Judo where it can do good. I am not a good marketer, or perhaps I give up too easily. I just don’t see a point to banging my head against a wall. I thought my community of 30,000 or so would seep over into that of punditry and politics. But you are all (like me) a pack of powerless nerds!

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

But you are all (like me) a pack of powerless nerds!

A while back, I posted a passage from a Vonnegut book--Bluebeard IIRC--in which a character laid out three people who are necessary for any successful revolution. From memory, because there's no way I'll find the passage just by scanning for it:

1) A visionary who has a bold idea that no one else would think of
2) Someone with the trust of the public who can vouch for 1) and get the public to actually pay attention
3) Someone with good marketing skills

You fill the role of 1) quite nicely, and I suspect that a 3) wouldn't be too hard to find. What you lack is 2). Without that, you preach to the choir, but don't change many minds, because those minds don't "know" you well enough to trust you or to care to listen with an open mind to something unfamiliar.

And no, I don't have a suggestion on who could fill the role. Some YouTube influencer, perhaps? That's all I got.

Ahcuah said...

Vonnegut in Bluebeard:

The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius — a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in general circulation. “A genius working alone,” he says, “is invariably ignored as a lunatic.”

The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find: a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad. “A person like this working alone,” says Slazinger, “can only yearn loud for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be.”

The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain everything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. “He will say almost anything in order to be interesting and exciting,” says Slazinger. “Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.”

Cari Burstein said...

One problem with any sort of whistleblower prize is the possibility that it could throw more doubt on any legitimate whistleblowing. It's already common that any serious report of wrongdoing gets wrapped up with accusations that people are making it up to get back at someone or for some other reason. If there's actual attractive incentives for whistleblowing, every report will be tinged by the belief that they were really just making it up for the prize.

There are probably ways to reduce the possibility of cheating the system, but the idea alone is enough to undermine reports. Just look at the way people who don't take COVID-19 seriously latch onto the idea that hospitals are inflating their case numbers to make money.

jim said...

here is an article some might find interesting

"In Asimov’s Foundation, Harry Seldon uses ‘psychohistory’ to predict the galactic empire’s impending collapse. A kind of statistical mechanics for humans, psychohistory is the social scientist’s dream. It predicts with uncanny accuracy the course of humanity. Sadly, psychohistory doesn’t exist, nor will it likely ever exist. So we’re forced to find a more crude window into empire’s rise and fall. That window will obviously be history. But what is the language?

The history of empire, I argue, isn’t written in the speeches and proclamations of elites. Instead, it’s written in the language of energy. Although the motivations for empire building differ between societies, the end result is always the same. A successful empire centralizes the flow of energy. This means that energy use (per person) in the empire’s core will dwarf energy use in the periphery. The degree that this is true marks the degree that the empire is successful.

Energy use, then, provides a window into the rise and fall of empires. Let’s look through this window and see what we find."

Larry Hart said...

Pachydermis2 in the previous comments:

I mention this as a point in favor of identifying viral infections by their point of origin. Where known it helps you understand the nature of the beasties. Wuhan has been dubbed doubleplusungood, but when considering what mix of wetmarkets, crowding, and assorted other factors might be in play it does provide some framework.

From a purely scientific or medical POV, "Wuhan virus" makes sense. The problem is that everything is political these days. For example, I love the concepts of freedom and liberty, but anyone who talks or rants publicly using those words seems to have a right-wing agenda, so they immediately arouse suspicion.

I don't know how I got onto a MAGA mailing list, but I just this very day received an offer which begins with:

My fellow Patriot,

Do you want to bring America's economy roaring back and stop the Liberal Democrats from using the Chinese virus pandemic to turn our nation into a failed Big Government Socialist country like Venezuela...

(emphasis is in the original)

See, "Chinese virus" is not just a clinical description of where the thing came from. It's meant to imply that a foreign enemy is responsible, and that therefore Donald Trump bears none of the blame for botching the response and all of the credit for talking tough about China. And anyone who forcefully uses "Chinese virus" in a public statement is tacitly declaring themselves to be on that side of the argument, just as anyone who says "Democrat Party" is trolling, and anyone advocating "Religious liberty" means the liberty of organizations to demand obedience rather than what the words actually mean.

Which is why I won't use "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus" no matter how scientifically accurate such a description might be in more rational times. It has nothing to do with whether or not China's feelings are hurt.

David Brin said...

CariB there are aspects to a whistleblower prize that need discussion. Anyone bringing solid evidence can jump to the head of the queue. Those raving mere unsupported accusations are promised confidentiality and identity protection… and small rewards for coming forward with clues that can be offered to other investigators.

jim: “A successful empire centralizes the flow of energy. This means that energy use (per person) in the empire’s core will dwarf energy use in the periphery.”

Except that failure mode was EXACTLY what George Marshall and Harry Truman decided not to emulate from past empires, emphasizing instead flow of capital outward to the poor peripheries, who experienced history’s greatest burst of development. Geez, even when you have insights you interpret them wrong.

Alfred Differ said...


, then we have to put paid to the whole notion that the rich and poor alike deserve their wealth and poverty respectively

Yah. 'Deserve' has nothing to do with economic outcomes. It has to do with justice outcomes. You deserve a chance to play in the game. You don't deserve to win or loose… if you play by the rules. When you break the rules, justice weighs in and you deserve something. When you follow the rules an your opponent doesn't, justice weighs in again.

My wife, who is a realtor, runs into an analogous situation all the time.

House prices are a good example. When I sold my last place, I had a choice of selling as is or fixing it up. It wasn't a binary choice since many fix options were available. We hired a guy who would benefit from selling the house for as much as possible and asked his advice. He suggested a plan that would have cost me about $70K and added about $160K to his predicted price. I didn't have $70K cash, so a loan would have been involved. After parsing his plan, we settled on something where I risked $40K (which I had) to add $120K to the projected price. In the end, it worked out at $42K and won me $95K above the as-is price. Roughly doubled instead of tripled my risk investment, so I was happy enough. Sale took eight months where I was paying the mortgage without a renter, so it worked out about $30K in the black.

Through all of that, I never knew my broker's opinions regarding who deserved what. Same is true for the house buyer. They never knew my views regarding justice either. We managed our win-win BETTER by not knowing… and not judging each other except by whether we played by the rules.
As for the bid-ask spread, I need to correct you. My 'value' isn't an ask price. I don't think 'value' has meaning without both bid and ask price and an euvoluntary completion of the transaction. Euvoluntary instead of voluntary since I care that both parties have enough power to allow them to walk away from terms they don't like. The guy in a desert dying of thirst can't walk away from a water seller no matter the price.

The problem is with the definition of 'value' in English. We mix prudence and justice when we value our neighbor and value the deal we got from him for his used car. Carrying that confusion into our economic input into public policy is a really bad idea.

Deal with unjust behaviors with solutions aimed at justice… not prudence. A fine levied against a cheater isn't supposed to be about causing the business case to produce a negative return. It has that EFFECT, but the purpose should be punitive justice.

Alfred Differ said...


The history of empire, I argue, isn’t written in the speeches and proclamations of elites. Instead, it’s written in the language of energy.

Heh. That WOULD draw your attention. Unfortunately, it also smacks of scientism.

A successful empire centralizes the flow of energy.

By that definition, the US has never been an empire. A colonizer... yes. Empire... no. There has always been outflow of our people and ideas that cause decentralization.

The evidence is obvious. Draw a map of the current US territory and chart the location of every city over 1 million people. Draw another map just like it for each decade working backward in time scaling down the 1 million number for the population of the US. Note that doing so requires one to bring the border in occasionally. Territories count the same way as States.

You'll wind up with a couple dozen maps. Those dots on the map will show where capital got concentrated which is your author's 'concentration of energy' concept described in dollars instead of KWhrs. Now put them in a flipbook or animate them moving forward in time again and you'll see the flow.

What works even better is to chart some of the smaller cities too, but with bubbles representing pop size. Scale it all to the population of the US, though. Wherever people concentrated, so does capital, thus energy.

We don't concentrated at the 'center of our empire'. We spread.

A.F. Rey said...

Here's a modest proposal to get the Democrats to read your book, one using reverse psychology.

Send copies to Tucker, Hannity, Limbaugh, et al saying you have discovered the Democrats secret playbook they will use to try to defeat Trump. They will look at it and immediately denounce it, telling everyone everything that is wrong with it. This will inevitably lead to the Democrats reading the book, just to see what the demagogues are screaming about. Once they read it, they will nod their heads, and immediately incorporate it into their strategy!

What could go wrong? :)

And if nothing else, it will help increase sales. :D

(Yes, I do have a tiny evil streak in me...)

David Brin said...

AFR clever! In fact there are tricks in the book I'd rather dems had a chance to play before goppers got aware... but that horse has likely left the barn. Tell you what, if you do this, I'll paypal all your expenses?

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

My 'value' isn't an ask price. I don't think 'value' has meaning without both bid and ask price and an euvoluntary completion of the transaction.

I think I agree more than I disagree. When I said that the asking price is the seller's value, I meant that that amount is the stated value for which he'd be willing to part with the thing. Of course, that value gets adjusted during the negotiation period. "I wasn't going to accept a cent less than %500K, but am I really going to walk away from a firm $489K? Maybe not so much."

Unlike the Randists, I think it is difficult if not impossible to assign a single objective "value" of a thing, even to one participant in a transaction. The dollar figure that I might be willing to sell my house for might not be the same thing as the value that the house provides me as a commodity.

There's a whole school of thought which tries to claim that anything of value (including intangibles such as one's life and liberty) are only "worth" what he can trade it for. My response to that is best summed up by this line of dialogue from Thanos against The Magus in Warlock # 11 (Thanos is the good guy in this one--sort of) :

Fortunately, a true image, like truth itself, is a subjective concept, one to be accepted or rejected depending on the viewer's prejudices, so...


He actually spoke like that in the middle of a fight. I miss the old days.

duncan cairncross said...

Jim keeps rabbiting on about "energy"

This is the FIRST civilisation that is becoming positive sum om energy

Solar Panels and Wind Turbines return somewhere between 10 and 50 times the energy it takes to make them

David Brin said...

Yeah. What Duncan said.

Alfred Differ said...



I'm happier the further we get from a belief system containing objective values for anything. For me it seems obvious that such things can't exist, but I know I'm simply rejecting whole schools of philosophical thought. Nothing new in that for me. I'm usually focused on the practical uses of a theory. I used to be drawn to a utilitarian view, but I've soured on that a lot because of the way people put it to use.

The impossibility of objectiveness in valuations was driven home for me with a simple exercise demonstrating the impossibility of the large scale resource utilization problem. Basically, how can we ALL economize our resources. That problem is inherently unsolvable without a time machine and knowledge of all the possible universes that might be for each decision we make. Time/Many Worlds machines ain't gonna happen. There is no where to put the information except as the very universe being studied. The best we can manage is a low-fidelity simulation or a high-fidelity, very local simulation.

I never read much about Thanos in the old issues, but I get your point I think. I recall Doom being written many different ways depending on the writer and some actually gave him a consistent philosophy. Evil too, but it had an internal logic. Rarely ever in the annuals (of course), but sometimes in the special editions. I saw it a lot more with Magneto's character when Claremont had the reins.

Hailey said...

Yep, powerless nerds a'nerdin in here. I think the most influential person I know personally is a Democratic mayor of a small city in a red state, but I haven't spoken to him in years. Maybe I should try to reconnect on the off chance he makes it onto the national stage?

Larry Hart said...

Sad but true...

Protesters can make demands of governors and mayors, especially Democratic ones, because at the local level small-d democratic accountability still exists. Nationally such responsiveness is gone; no one expects the president to do his job, or to be held to account when he doesn’t. That’s how you know the country was broken before coronavirus ever arrived.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I'm usually focused on the practical uses of a theory. I used to be drawn to a utilitarian view,..

Interesting. Do you mind if I ask what the difference is between "practical" and "utilitarian"?

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

The impossibility of objectiveness in valuations was driven home for me with a simple exercise demonstrating the impossibility of the large scale resource utilization problem. Basically, how can we ALL economize our resources...

It's driven home for me by a truth so obvious that I can't believe anyone else doesn't see it. If every trade between individuals was exact value-for-value, then we'd never bother making trades at all. Every trade would be zero-sum in the sense that we're no better (or worse) off after the trade than we were before. Either that or every trade has a winner and a loser in which one party mistakenly trades something of greater value away in exchange for something of lesser value. And if that were the case, most people would sour on the whole idea of trading after a short time.

The reason trade as a concept is beneficial is because it is positive-sum. I trade something that is more valuable to you in exchange for something that is more valuable to me. We're both better off after the trade than before. When people speak of "trade" as a good thing, this is the implication. Yet implicit therein is the fact that the things being traded don't have an inherent, objective value. Not only is the value different for the two parties to the trade--it must be so.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I never read much about Thanos in the old issues, but I get your point I think. I recall Doom being written many different ways depending on the writer and some actually gave him a consistent philosophy. Evil too, but it had an internal logic. Rarely ever in the annuals (of course), but sometimes in the special editions. I saw it a lot more with Magneto's character when Claremont had the reins.

Now you went and did it. :)

This is much more common in recent decades, but in the early 1970s, it was rare for a particular comics writer to essentially bring his own fan-created characters into the stories he wrote for a company like Marvel. Jim Starlin was such a writer. Thanos was part of a mythology of his own that he incorporated into the Marvel universe.

I read the Starlin-written issues of "Warlock" before I had read Thanos's other appearances in "Avengers" and "Iron Man". Thus, I was perfectly willing to accept that Thanos was a good guy, or at least a bad-ass good guy, as he was helping Warlock fight Warlock's evil future self, The Magus. Only later did I realize that that was an alliance of convenience--The Magus was a threat to Thanos's plans for universal domination.

Starlin got very philosophical in those Warlock issues, and I was wryly amused by the philosophy the characters would expound on, even in the middle of a slugfest.

Chris Claremont turned Magneto from a cackling villain into a tragic anti-hero. The whole back-story of his being a Holocaust survivor was a Claremont retcon. Many subsequent writers assume that Magneto is Jewish because he was in a Nazi concentration camp as a child, but I think it's pretty obvious that Claremont meant for him to be a Gypsy--the whole bit about him being the real father of known Gypsies Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Some have speculated that Claremont meant to make Magneto into his own Dr. Doom, who also happens to be a Gypsy.

Darrell E said...

Some might find this article interesting, Steven Pinker on the Tribal Roots of Defying Social Distancing, by Robert Bazell, adjunct professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale and, for 38 years, chief science correspondent for NBC News. It includes some well stated ideas on the underlying psychology of tribalism and anti-science sentiment. Both things often written about here, particularly the latter. In the article the author quotes several people including Steven Pinker (Professor of Psychology, Harvard University), Dan Kahan (Professor of Law and Psychology at Yale).

[quoting Pinker] “There’s a moralistic component to this kind of tribalism, mainly that people tend to see their own tribes as victims of some kind of oppression or harm by some rival coalition. They believe their actions on behalf of the group, even if symbolic, are a kind of justice, a kind of settling the score, making a statement, advancing a moral cause—as strange as that may be to those of us who are not part of that coalition, and might even have contempt for that cause. But from the inside, it always feels as if your group has been victimized, has been a longstanding victim of a series of affronts and harms for which you seek redress. And that’s common in the invented histories and myths and narratives of many peoples.

[quoting Kahan] “He (Kahan) has shown, time and again, that the need to belong to a group, usually political or religious, overrides the facts of science. Kahan, who was unable to be interviewed, has written in Nature: “People find it disconcerting to believe that behavior that they find noble is nevertheless detrimental to society, and behavior that they find base is beneficial to it. Because accepting such a claim could drive a wedge between them and their peers, they have a strong emotional predisposition to reject it.”

I can't count the number of times I've tried to explain the following (in general). But Pinker, as is to be expected, says it much better than I ever have.

[quoting Pinker] “With coronavirus, it’s genuinely hard to know whether surfaces are potential vectors, whether six feet is enough or not enough, whether masks help or don’t help. From a scientist’s point of view, it’s not surprising the information would shift. That’s because our natural state is ignorance. We can only learn from data, and as the data comes in, our state of knowledge and best practices will change. But, partly because people think of experts as oracles, as opposed to experimenters and exploiters of trial and error, there’s a presumption that either the experts know what is the best policy from the get-go, or else they are incompetent and ought to be replaced. That’s opposed to what we know to be the correct situation in science—namely, no one knows anything, and you have to learn.

[quoting Pinker] “As Kahan has shown, even those of us who think we have enlightened beliefs on evolution, climate change, coronavirus, don’t have the expertise to come to a reasoned conclusion. So we trust the scientists. And we’re right to do so because scientists do have methods more likely to lead to the truth than the conspiracy theorists and kooks.

Darrell E said...

A little bit more . . .

Pinker says motivations in the age of COVID-19 go beyond cognitive dissonance. “It isn’t just that people are logicians and they’re bothered by contradictions,” he offers. “They’re really bothered by facts that seem to challenge their self-image as competent, autonomous, and moral. I think the better interpretation of Festinger’s findings is not so much that all your thoughts have to be consistent. Probably a lot of our thoughts aren’t consistent. We just don’t think them through. But when there is some belief that is incompatible with the belief, ‘I’m in control, I’m good, I’m competent,’ that’s when the rationalizations go into overdrive.”
Rationalizations gone into overdrive. Perfect fit for many Trump supporters that really should know better. As every day brings yet another contemptible Trump moment that would have ended the political career of anybody else in any other previous era in modern US history, and you may think this is the breaking point where support for Trump will plummet, but no. The only reaction is that the rationalizations get even more ridiculous. Jumping the shark doesn't begin to cover it. Poe's Law, satire, irony, its all dead, drawn, quartered, trampled to mush, burned to ashes and scattered to the ends of the Earth.

jim said...

Well Duncan and David,

Let’s go through it again.

1) Wind turbines and solar panels are made using fossil fuels. Probably better to think of them as fossil fuel extenders.

2) Wind and Solar are both diffuse and intermittent flows of energy trying to replace dense and easily stored fossil fuels.

3) All methods to make the diffuse and intermittent energy concentrated and consistently dispatchable greatly increase the energy cost of that energy. In other words, you have to include the cost of the batteries, the long distance transmittion lines, and/ or the over build and waste the surplus methods for increasing reliability.

4) The geographically limited locations for good wind power.

5) The seasonality of the energy flows. (this is huge – storing truly huge amounts of energy for months is really expensive. Think of the capital cost of biggest battery imaginable that only cycles once per year)

6) Then there is the scale of the problem.~84 % of total world’s energy use is from fossil fuels and fossil fuels are rapidly increasing in their energy cost of energy, leaving much less surplus energy to make the wind turbines and solar panels.

Larry Hart said...

President Donald Trump on Monday pledged to bring down shooting numbers in Chicago and other American cities “even if we have to go in and take over.”

With apologies to Humphrey Bogart...
"There are some parts of Chicago that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

“So we’re not going to let it go on,” he added. “We’re not supposed to … uh supposed to wait for them to call, but they don’t call. We’ve asked Chicago, ‘Would you like us to go in and help?’ and they don’t want to say anything. And we’ve called many of the cities, ‘Would you like us to go and help?‘”

The way the soldiers from the capital "helped" right after "Welcome to District 12"?

David Brin said...

Kailey, these contacts can be valuable to maintain. Another approach is to help in a swing stste assembly district race. There's real power there and the winning candidate may remember your name.

jim's polysyllabit chants look and sound sapient, till you ask: "Can you bak ANY of this up with actual facts?"

He is mixing in the concept of entropy... that all uses of energy are ultimately waste generating... and implies that means all is lost, when in fact Earth's transparent atmosphere exports most of the entropy as waste heat... a system that is clogged a bit (perhaps lethally) by greenhouse gases that solar and wind would STOP.

Then he goes on to list problems with sustainables that are being solved rapidly, as we speak, and would have been solved by now if rabid cults had not blocked progeress at every step. Solutions for which he offers no help at all.

Notice no one talks about Peak Oil anymore. Clearly there is vastly more than enough fossil fuel to make all the solar cells and batteries and wind and tide and kite generators while maintaining the economy and feeding everyone. Doing all that WELL enough to transition effectively will be a struggle. One that we might lose! In part thanks to lazy-ass cynics.

But the moving of goal posts:
- Solar will NEVER equal costs with fossils or be the prefered investment-build! (Um, it is, now)
- Peak Oil will send prices through the roof, impoverish the world, starve billions! (Um, not)
... is truly a psychological phenomenon.

David Brin said...

I meant Hailey? Sorry ;-( And sorry I type fast and press send (re typoes) But seriously. Limited l

A.F. Rey said...

Tell you what, if you do this, I'll paypal all your expenses?

As much as I'd like to try to pull something like this off, I'm afraid I don't have the requisite deviousness. Ideally, I would think one would need to start the buzz at the sources for the demagogues--the Reddit groups like Q-Anon and such. Then they would give a submission more consideration than if it just came out of the blue.

Unfortunately I don't have the stomach for going that deep into Right Wing culture. Depresses me even to think about it. :(

It's a mad idea anyway. But then it is 2020, isn't it? ;)

jim said...

Oh David
Your reply produced a big belly laugh.
The percentage of total energy use due to fossil fuels has be in the neighborhood of 80% for at lest the last 50 years.

Although there still are enormous quantities of fossil fuels underground, the energetic (and environmental) cost of obtaining them has been steadily increasing sense ~1970. It has gotten so bad that the companies that frack for oil have never made a profit from selling oil. Oil wells use to be gold mines (black gold, Texas tea) and the oil industry was enormously profitable but no longer. For the oil to work over the long term the price of oil has to be high enough to support new extraction AND low enough for customers to buy.
What has happened with fracking is that we used a very large amount of debt (and investment money that will never be paid back) to drive down the price of oil so that is affordable. Doing that has eliminated a lot profit from the oil companies greatly reducing their investments in new extraction. And with the current pandemic substantially reducing demand for oil has given them another giant blow to their finances. If / when oil demand pics back up expect a big price spike for oil.

(the bankrupt frakers have also left the public giant environmental problems with their tens of thousands of wells that will need to plugged at the end of their short lives. And hey guess what, that process will take a fair amount of energy and money too.)

David Brin said...

A combination (as usual) of utter baloney and truth misused to support baloney.

jim said...

Sorry Mr. Techno-cornucopian you are just lying.
What did I say that was false?

David Brin said...

"so it can be affordable" what a laugh. And once... even once... show me you are worth my time "jim". You never, ever, ever answer my challenges, and hence I am not answerable to you.

scidata said...

If they put a nose-cone on SN5 prior to the hop, it's a clear indication that they're Asimovians. If they don't, they're MBA bean counters. We'll see shortly.

jim said...

Sorry David but it seems as though you suffer from some sort of cognitive decline that prevents you from remembering when people respond to the questions you ask. You do it with me and several other people. You might want to get that checked out.

(fracking did reduce the price of oil from ~120$ per barrel to ~40-60$ per barrel)

Zepp Jamieson said...

Joe Biden, in collaboration with Elizabeth Warren, introduced a $2T clean energy plan today, significantly more ambitious and with a faster schedule than his previous plan from several months ago. Not only is it by far the most comprehensive such plan, but it has the best chance of passing and becoming real, since it is integral to rebuilding the economy in the wake of the twin plagues of coronavirus and fascism.

Zepp Jamieson said...

President Donald Trump on Monday pledged to bring down shooting numbers in Chicago and other American cities “even if we have to go in and take over.”

Wow. That's just chilling.

Alfred Differ said...


what the difference is between "practical" and "utilitarian"?

In common English? Not much. In the philosophical sense? There is a branch of Ethics called Utilitarianism. I'm grossly oversimplifying, but it argues that ethical behavior delivers utility to those doing it, thus it makes sense, thus it gets reproduced. What is utility? Well… generally personal benefit, but it could be diluted a bit as group benefit. The field grew toward maturity as Darwin's Evolution did and there is a lot of cross-over.

Why do you love your kids? Because there is utility in it. To you? Some. To the species? Sure. Definitely the community, though, and that is from where most of your personal utility derives.

Economists take it a step further and look to quantify it. Then they take another step and attempt to write what thermodynamics students would call a state function. It goes like this…

U( numerous different variables) = something

The function could represent energy or entropy or something big and universal. In their case it is utility. The argument goes that we maximize utility as a community when we do things right. We don't know the exact function, but we can talk about its first derivative. So that leads to their 'marginal product' definitions.

dU = sum over all variables [(partial derivate of U wrt each variable) x d(variable)]

Maxima occur when dU is around zero, so set that sum to zero and see where it leads.

One of the things that falls out is EXACTLY what you pointed out.

If every trade between individuals was exact value-for-value, then we'd never bother making trades at all.

It's called a Pareto Optimal state. In that state, any trade that happens MUST make someone worse off.

Yah. You can pick this up in economics textbooks if you like. I'm NOT an economists, but I'm very interested in how people construct theories and models. It turns out there isn't all that much variety in our models of the world around us if you abstract out the particular subjects and objects of our models. For example, the model used to estimate the values of options on shares of stocks and really darn close to the heat diffusion model in thermodynamics. There is a small twist using a stochastic variable for options, but the partial differential equation (like the dU one above) isn't complicated.

I find model re-use fascinating… and disturbing at the same time. That's a big part of what bugs me about economics as a field. They look like geocentric astronomers. Seriously 'ugh.'

More than you probably want to know, I'm sure. If you are ever left wondering why I react strongly to something that sounds otherwise innocent, though, it's often something like this. I don't like where the idea leads. I don't like the assumptions in the model. I don't like forced use of ancient models that can't reasonably be expected to be correct as explanations. Something along those lines.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry, (now for comic books)

I never saw Magneto as a Jew. He's obviously Gypsy by Claremont's characterization of him. That he was meant as a mutant version of Doom was equally obvious according to my not so humble opinion. 8)

I remember seeing a spoof/satire about Claremont many years ago. The story filled to the brim with characters that couldn't possibly be developed in the short number of pages available in an issue. Each new character new that and had to consider fighting with the others just to be known. MY TURN! Fights were like oxygen. 8)

Magneto before Claremont was lame. He wasn't even one dimensional. Afterward, he made sense as a human being, though still a little flat. He fought for more pages and won, but he wasn't worth reading if one of the annual writers got a hold of him. Back to lame most of the time. Even in cross-overs.

No doubt thats part of why authors don't share universes very often. They have to in comic books to generate regular monthly content, but it's a hazard elsewhere. For example, is our host's version of Hari Seldon close to the same as Seldon's creator? Heh. It takes work, thus time, to do that and comic book production schedules likely don't permit it.

Alfred Differ said...

Darrell E,

Rationalizations gone into overdrive.

Wonderful fit for a broad swathe of us... not just the Trump supporters. We'll probably need a generation to go by before we can look back on this time and see what actually made sense and what didn't.

But my rationalizations are better than y'all's!


(Gotta love Pinker.)

Alfred Differ said...


I used to work in the 'electricity' industry. Certain assumptions I used to make got utterly trashed when they made sure all of us (even IT guys like me) were trained enough to understand what the industry ACTUALLY did.

What you've written here so far demonstrates that you've done some reading, but it lacks a certain... well... specificity. That suggests to me you don't actually know the industry. You've probably studied at the feet of people who claim to know, but might not.

I'm not going to turn the comments here into a training session, though. I'd just ask you to try offering a simple answer to a simple question that simple training won't be enough to handle.

When I (a retail customer) pay my electric utility bill, what am I actually buying from the utility?

If your training is further along than I think, you should be able to answer that correctly in about two paragraphs. Maybe less. If not, you'll likely answer it in one or two sentences.

If you've studied this enough to be a local expert, you'll need a whole page and a careful plan to make it fit into the 4096 character limit here.

duncan cairncross said...

jim is right about the last 50 years being powered by fossil fuels

But that is not a forecast for the future
In 1920 it would have been perfectly correct to say that 90% of journeys over the previous 50 years were by horse power NOT these new fangled car things

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

No doubt thats part of why authors don't share universes very often. They have to in comic books to generate regular monthly content, but it's a hazard elsewhere. For example, is our host's version of Hari Seldon close to the same as Seldon's creator? Heh.

No, but to be fair, 1980s-Asimov's Hari Seldon was quite different from 1950s-Asimov's Hari Seldon (not to mention their respective Trantors).

I don't know how familiar you are with "Cerebus" and its writer/artist/publisher Dave Sim, but early on, Dave decided that he was doing a 26-year experiment by committing to a monthly schedule (after the first few issues) for a 300-issue comic book written entirely by the same person. One of the points was to avoid just what you mentioned--having too many different visions of the story conflating. He even said something like, "300 issues of Superman don't make sense as a life." He meant for his 300 issues of "Cerebus" to do just that.

Only it didn't. It probably couldn't. Because 48-year-old Dave Sim in 2004 was as different a person from 22-year-old Dave Sim in 1977 as any two writers of Superman. If anything, I think his experiment proved something very different: That it is not possible for an extended story to "make sense as a life". Because a life and a story are two different things, and there's a Heisenberg Uncertainty principle at work insuring that the more a work of fiction "works" as a life, the less it "works" as a story (and vice versa).

Point being, it would have been impossible for Dr Brin to write a Foundation novel for publication in the late 1990s that truly felt like an extension of the 1950s series. But that's not because Dr Brin is not Isaac Asimov. It would have been impossible for Asimov himself to have done so.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: I don't like the assumptions in the model.

Back when I was ruminating over a Bayesian model for computational psychohistory (much simpler than it sounds), I leaned a lot on Norbert Wiener:

"What most experimenters take for granted before they begin their experiments is infinitely more interesting than any results to which their experiments lead."

"The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat."

Alfred Differ said...


It would have been impossible for Asimov himself to have done so.

I have to agree. I can look back at some of what I wrote that's not even fiction and see the same thing. I would not have written the same material today… or even believed those beliefs.

One of the things I got out of V Vinge's 'zones of thought' novels was the notion of what a 'person' would look like in terms of the data that represents them. Obviously he had to go light on the subject, but his computer science background gave the hand-waved description plausibility for me. We humans ARE the data structure. There is no simplification to stories, data archives, databases, or anything so simple. A Transcedent building one of us like we'd build a machine would make no sense to us except as an act of writing us AS the structure we already are.

When I did a mash-up with what I'd learned from Hofstadter's work on language learning and what a 'self' is, it all seemed to click together. Look long and hard at our languages… and you'll see us looking back from the other side of the recursive loop.

As for the stories? Pieces of us as they define our languages. The data AND the structure.

Very neat stuff.


I've come around to the opinion that in modeling the world, we are really building ourselves into something else. Whether we successfully model the world may or may not happen, but we certainly ARE changing.

Model re-use and re-purposing is to be expected.
Something truly beautiful occurs when we write a new one.

Describing them is… well…
Sometimes I feel like a painter with no access to pigments who winds up becoming an engineer to create them.

Studying them is… well… kinda pornographic… both good and bad connotations fully implied.
So many ideas running about without a stitch on them. 8)

scidata said...

Re: modeling the world

In both good old fashioned AI (GOFAI) and modern Machine Learning (ML), the toughest nut to crack is common sense. For example, very advanced games like Chess and Go were mastered by AI before Pacman was. Explicit logic and layered neural networks are easy compared to tacit common sense. One almost has to understand the world before one can understand the world. Humans manage to do this by bootstrapping a vastly simplified model of reality that lives in their 3 pound brain.

And we most certainly DO change along the way.

David Brin said...

Angela Davis explains her decision to vote for Joe Biden: “Biden is far more likely to take mass demands seriously. Far more likely than the current occupant of the White House. So this coming November, the election will ask us not so much to vote for the best candidate, but to vote for or against ourselves.”

Pappenheimer said...

Jared Diamond wrote about a Polynesian island that avoided ecological catastrophe by killing all its pigs. Enough islanders looked down the road and saw mass starvation; then they agreed to act.
He also wrote about Easter Island. At the end of their collapse, there weren't any trees left for the Islanders to build boats and escape.
Modern societies have far better predictive and communicative capabilities - Hell, SF writers are privately funded soothsayers - so what can be done to garner enough consensus to overrule the powers that be, when those powers are only interested in maintaining short term power and wealth? When I (retired USAF Weather) forecast a frontal passage with possible thunderstorms, I got listened to even when there were no clouds in the sky.
I am very worried that we've used up our lead time. And, like the woodman said to Theoden, "Wind is changing."
Not for the better. We've lost so much time, so much expertise, in 4 years.
I could use some reasoned disagreement here. Please...


duncan cairncross said...

Here is a simple test
(1) In all low income countries how many girls finish primary school
A 20% - B 40% c 60%
(2) Where does the majority of the worlds population live
A - low income countries --B Middle income countries - C High income countries
(3) In the last 20 years the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty has
A - almost doubled - B remained about the same - C almost halved
(4) What is the life expectancy of the world today
A 50 years - B 60 years - C 70 years
(5) There are 2 billion children aged 0 - 15 years old in the world today - how many children will there be in 2100 according to the UN
A - 4 Billion - B 3 Billion - C 2 Billion
(6) The UN predicts that there will be another 4 Billion people in the world in 2100 will there be
A More children - B More Adults (15-75) - C More Old people (over 75)
(7) How did the number of people killed each year in natural disaster change over the last 100 years
A More than doubled - B about the same - C less than half
(8) got a picture can't use
(9) How many of the world 1 year olds have been vaccinated
A 20% - B 50% - C 80%
(10) worldwide 30 year old men have spent an average of 10 years at school - how many years have 30 year old women spent?
A 9 years - B 6 years - C 3 years

10 questions
The answers are (1)C, (2)B, (3)C, (4)C, (5)C,(6)B, (7)C, (8)null, (9)C, (10)A

I got ONE! right
The answer is that we ARE doing better than we know
There is still a huge hill to climb but we have gone a long way

The Questions are from an excellent book called "Factfullness" - a superb read

Darrell E said...

Alfred Differ said...
"'Darrell E,

Rationalizations gone into overdrive.'

"Wonderful fit for a broad swathe of us... not just the Trump supporters. We'll probably need a generation to go by before we can look back on this time and see what actually made sense and what didn't."

Yes, I agree humans in general are absolutely prone to being taken in by our rationalizations. But degrees do matter!

"But my rationalizations are better than y'all's!

But of course! :)

later, Alfred Differ said...
"We humans ARE the data structure."

And processes. Data by itself doesn't do anything. But maybe processes are included in what you mean by "structure?"

scidata said...

"One almost has to understand the world before one can understand the world. Humans manage to do this by bootstrapping a vastly simplified model of reality that lives in their 3 pound brain."

Yes. Any product of tens to hundreds of millions of years of evolution has a big head start compared to humans trying to build something that can model the world with enough correspondence to function in it as well as we can. It is a common viewpoint that massive computational capacity is necessary to do these things, but I think there is much more to it than that. Time and time again researchers have been surprised by how an organism is capable of a sophisticated behavior with so few resources (brain size, neurons involved in the behavior). These sorts of surprises have led to advancements several times. Evolution is frugal, opportunistic, subtle and never stops fiddling.

Darrell E said...

Pappenheimer said...

"We've lost so much time, so much expertise, in 4 years.
I could use some reasoned disagreement here. Please...

We are at a low point, no doubt about it. It's also true that much valuable expertise has been driven out of our government institutions. But that expertise is not gone. It's still available. Not enough time has gone by for it to fade away. We can right this ship. Yes, our government has been behaving worse than a clown car full of malevolent chucklefucks and extremists seem to have monopolized the dialogue. But we've still got what it takes. We could fail of course, but I doubt it. We've got a really deep bench.

For a ray of hope, take a look at all the people that have stepped up, taken up a portion of the mantle, and done things that needed to be done in times of crisis when the leadership and organization that government institutions should have provided was absent or even actually utilized to obstruct. Look at the same sort of thing on other fronts. We all know that we need to do much more to move away from fossil fuels. But even absent strong government leadership and support to that end, take a good look at what people have been doing anyway on their own, making serious progress. Is it enough? Not yet. But real progress has been, is continuing to be, made.

I've got a feeling that rapid changes are a'comin. And it seems quite possible to me that they could be favorable. I think we've got a good chance. If not, well then we will become a dangerously large and powerful banana republic within 10 years, maybe sooner.

Hailey said...

@alfred humans as data structures and algorithms? That's a pretty neat analogy! I'm now imagining something like a basic template most people are close to, then there's the neurodivergents like ASD and ADHD with extreme efficiency and deficiency in various areas, education to improve one's algorithms and data storage, physical/psychological traumas that can cause damage/corruption, therapy that gives us heuristics to repair or bypass that damage, and so on and so on...

Larry Hart said...

I saw this on Stonekettles's Twitter feed. Can't tell if the misspelling is intentional, but it's appropriate in any case. Another thing I'm going to steal:

I see we’re having a Rose Garden performance of King Leer.

David Brin said...

An entrancing and absurd waste of time:
(Ignore it if you are tired of silly rube goldberg machines.)

Darrell E said...

I disagree it's a waste of time Dr. Brin! Silly projects like that are excellent practice / experience at figuring out how stuff works and how to make things happen. And, come on! Fun for fun's sake helps make life worth living. Almost a Tymbrimi vibe in a way, except it wasn't aimed at pranking anybody.

David Brin said...

Well, I DID link to it... ;-)

Anonymous said...

And what might a "good billionaire" do?"

Offer a reward or a bounty to whistle blowers who target US cheaters, just like the Russians offered to the Taliban for targeting US soldiers in Afghanistan.

What could go wrong?

Tim H. said...

And thank you for linking to it, that was inspired lunacy!

Jon S. said...

Figure "King Leer" was probably an autocorrect thing, but sublime in its way.

David Brin said...

"What could go wrong?" Seriously stooopid. One aims to increase transparency, spread light and accountability and increase public knowledge. The other absoluely depends upon criminal protection of the secrecy of criminal acts.

Diametrci opposites, and the crude attempt to use a linguistic trick to compare the two is blatantly insane.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Duncan: I got seven of nine. I missed 2 and 10. 10 badly. Americans tend to underestimate the ability of the rest of the world to address these issues, Africa and Asia in particular. Africa isn't all grass huts, and Asia isn't coolies with ox ploughs. I realise most folks here understand that, but knowing something and KNOWING it aren't always the same, and the most pernicious thing about stereotypes are the more subtle dependent assumptions. And no that isn't intended as any sort of rebuke at you, We all have such erratic dependent assumptions. Very hard to root out, those.

David Brin said...

Zepp, you "got Seven of Nine"? Dang, she was hot!!