Monday, April 20, 2015

Everybody Hide!

We all remember playground bullies. How did you deal with yours? Natural human instinct makes the weaker party tend to cower, to slink and avoid contact with local thugs, hoping they won't notice you. Indeed, that's the reaction bullying is intended to bring about, for nothing terrifies an abuser more than the notion his victims might cease being scared! 

Stoking fear is the bully's relentless aim. George Orwell portrayed this logic taken to its farthest extreme -- of both rationalization and ruthlessness -- in Nineteen Eighty Four. 

At a very young age, I learned methods of tactical-confrontation that generally worked, taking me right off the target list. Sometimes - not often enough - I dared to intervene on behalf of other victims. And when I had sons*, I thought I'd have to teach them my methods. I felt nervous about it, as there are always hazards in standing up to power. Only then I noticed something that struck me as strange...

... my sons reported almost no bullying! Not personally... nor witnessing anything flagrant or violent, or even repeated verbal hatefulness being done to classmates. 

Okay, maybe it was partly socioeconomic. Sure, I grew up a few rungs lower -- and we must continue to address those disparities, vigorously! (Please re-read that as many times as it takes, to stave off outraged emails. That aspect, while important, simply is not today's topic.)

Still, taking very real social differences into account, violence and abuse are declining nationwide, and elsewhere, too. Moreover, it has not happened because kids are getting better at cowering.  

If the playground is (gradually but measurably) getting safer and nicer, it is because kids have been taught to be less tolerant of bullying, as have teachers, parents, etc. It's called accountability.  As imperfect and uneven as this process has been, it is moving in the right direction. 

So why is the lesson so hard for leaders, pundits and Big Thinkers to grasp, when it comes to protecting freedom and safety, at-large? That this is how to deal with bullies on our streets, in our institutions and economy?  Why are we constantly told to hide?

== Applying accountability to grownup bullies ==

The transparent society that was forecast by my eponymous book keeps rushing toward us. Are you planning to stand athwart history, screaming for the flood of ever-smaller cameras to "stop"? Or will you join us, learning to surf the tsunami of change? Two news items provoke this latest attempt to get you to see the difference. Perhaps even persuading you to join us atop the wave.

1) The recent killing of an unarmed fellow by a North Charleston S.C. police officer might have led to a murder charge in any event, since the shooting -- five times in the back at medium range -- was forensically blatant homicide. But we'll never know, since video footage left even Charleston-area prosecutors with zero options. Open-and-shut does not begin to cover this. And so much for you cynics who claim that 'video won't make a difference.' It was already having a huge effect and those changes will accelerate, not only as cop-cams proliferate and passersby get into the habit of recording anything suspicious... but especially when, as depicted in EARTH (1989) and in The Transparent Society (1997), ghetto youths get out of their cars during a pull-over... with their own shoulder cams blinking away, sending live feeds into the cloud.

Indeed, new cell phone aps let you press one button to both start your video recording and simultaneously upload the footage to YouTube.  Notice how all of this uses assertive accountability to apply citizen supervision over our civil servants. 

That is a very different approach than the one offered in our next news item.

2) According to recent rulings, if the government puts a GPS tracker on you, your car, or any of your personal effects, it counts as a search—and is therefore proscribed by the Fourth Amendment.  

Oh… what a stunning – 

-- yawn. The very notion that smart lawyers and judges would consider any of this truly important is simple astonishing to me. Because in the very near future, the ability to track human movements will be so pervasive, using everything from face-recog to pheromones to the unique oto-acoustic emissions from your left and right ear, that we’ll all realize how futile it ever was, to follow today’s fashionable advice and hide.

Note this!  If you cannot tell the fundamental way in which these two news items (both of them apparent "victories") are diametric opposites, then you are swallowing the koolaid and have not begun to think like a citizen. You have the reflex of a bully's-victim, not habits that can end bullying forever.

Does it bother me that government agencies and corporations and criminals and other elites can look at me? Sure, when it's asymmetric. And sure, it always will be. But I also know what has worked, across 6000 years of mostly-awful human history.  Trying to blind elites is a sucker's game. They will see no matter how much you yammer about it! Hiding will not work, never has. Even once, ever. 

That does not make me complacent or passive about the dangers of a looming Big Brother. I am as intensely militant in opposing that outcome as anyone! Probably much, much, much more so.

Oh, the privacy pundits and mavens are right to holler about that potential danger. 

They are wrong to say that salvation will come by trying (with utter futility) to blind elites... instead of using the method that has already worked for us. 

Stripping elites. Making them visible and accountable. Nothing could be plainer. Yet still, the distinction is escaping most of you.

With a sigh, let's try to work this out, one more time.

== Oh no! They see us! ==

Zoom into an intelligent but myopic riff, taken from Robert Scheer’s They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy, published in 2015:

"In a burst of public honesty, Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen wrote in April 2013: 'Despite the expense, everything a regime would need to build an incredibly intimidating digital police state—including software that facilitates data mining and real-time monitoring of citizens—is commercially available right now. . . . It’s the digital analog to arms sales.'”

Again and again, "alphas" remain consistent in their obduracy and hammer-bagged tunnel vision. Whenever faced with an info-age conundrum, they always go to stage one -- "The elites are getting to see better than we can and this could lead to Big Brother!"

Yes, that is true, obvious, blatant... and how many times will you run about, waving your arms or wringing your hands about this -- without ever, even once, offering any further insights that might lead to a solution?

Amend that. Some of these fellows do offer a proposed solution. Like this one routinely pushed by internet "security expert" Bruce Schneier. And yes, I am sarcastically but accurately paraphrasing:

 "Everybody hide! Encrypt everything! (Even though one elite or another likely has a back door, or could fly a gnat cam to watch your keyboard, or clamp a key logger anywhere along your wires, or key-log using EM from your monitor or screen.) Yesss, that's the ticket. Act meek and innocuous. Don't say anything that might draw attention. Hide!”  

As if computers owned by the NSA, or gangs, or foreign intelligence agencies, or corporations, or cyber-hackers, or the idle rich won't - five years from now - be able to parse every sigh or harmless emoticon or sarcastic shrug you make today, or unravel today's ciphers with ease.

Ah, but believe it or not, Bruce Schneier is above average!  Most of our brightest pundits, like Mr. Robert Scheer, can only pile up well-written sentences and worry-fraught examples of elite surveilling vision, into a mountain of despair. Another example? A couple of weeks ago, at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder CO, I listened to former CIA officer Valerie (Plame) Wilson bemoan the same plaint, declaring that we must find a "middle ground" in the tradeoff between freedom and security.  The kind of zero-sum thinking that will ultimately doom both freedom and safety.

Emotionally, they may feel they are pounding out a call to arms! But if you sift for practical suggestions — things that a citizen might actually do about all this — the lesson is pretty basic -- despair

The fraction of our well-meaning pundits who see even a glimmer of the truth is appalling.

That light does not have to be our enemy! That we got our liberty -- the very freedom that fellows like Scheer (rightfully!) and Wilson and Schneier fear losing — not by cowering in shadows but by aggressively, militantly and eagerly expanding a citizen's right to see. To look-back at power.

Take this telling extract from the Scheer piece

“The most sacred tenet of American individualism, the right to be left alone, had been squandered, almost without notice.”

Despite Scheer's Lost-in-Space level of arm-waving drama, there's a very serious point here.  And a conflation of staggering proportions.

Yes, citizens need and deserve and must demand the right to be left alone! To be unbothered by elites of government, wealth, criminality etc, and especially by the millions of "little brother" neighbor-gossips who might gang up on us for our eccentricities, our non-conformist idiosyncrasies, our unconventional habits or opinions that do not blatantly harm others. 

I share with Scheer and Schneier and Wilson this basic dread.  Remember, we are arguing not over the danger, but over proposed solutions, here. Of which, alas, they offer none.

Only, consider: the right to be left alone is vastly more about the physical than the digital world!  This should be - but isn't - stunningly obvious. What elites can DO to us is vastly more important than what they KNOW about us. So let's start there.  What does it take to stop others from doing us physical harm?

Light. We are seeing this all over the country, as constabularies are being forced to adapt to an era of camera-equipped and empowered citizens. All over the world, people are bringing recorders into meetings with corrupt officials and turning the tables, getting the bureaucrats' bribe-demands on chip and then demanding payoffs from the officials, lest the recording go public. Is the NSA listening to me right now? Maybe. (And how will I ever know, for sure?) But my top priority goes to making sure they can never come to arrest or harm me without it going public in a way that would cause them a world of hurt. That is a higher priority.

My neighbors? Those potential "little brothers?"  They are already mostly deterred from harming me and mine.  First, because they share a rising value system of "leave each other alone for non-hurtful differences."  But mostly because... well... I can't explain lateral deterrence better than Jeannie C. Riley did in "Harper Valley PTA." Moreover, if you do not know the song, and its message, then you deserve no part in this discussion. The lyrics make this point better than I ever could.

Do I dislike the fact that the NSA and Google and Anthem know vastly more about me than I do about them? Sure! That anisotropy comes next, on our list of priorities. We need to make it a matter of extreme militancy, as I portrayed in both my novel EARTH and in the nonfiction book: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

But it starts with the right to be left alone. And recognizing a simple truth of nature and logic. 

You can never verify that someone else does not know something!  

But you can often verify that they are not doing something.

Hence, no matter how many laws you pass, forbidding elites from looking, all you will accomplish is to whack-a-mole their eavesdropping to go someplace else, perhaps more secret/sinister and harder to supervise. Passing laws against elites looking at us is a sucker's game. And I have long defied anyone to name one example, across 6000 years, of it ever working.

Moreover, the only way you can possibly enforce such laws is if you already have my method in place -- vigorous, citizen-centered sousveillance. The kind of accountability that has reduced bullying in our schools and playgrounds.

Again and again, I'll repeat it till someone out there can paraphrase it back. You cannot police what others know. But you can hold accountable what they do. And to accomplish that we do not need less light.

We need lots, lots more.

* Our daughter, a second degree black belt, kept an eye on her own peer group... which also seemed nicer than my generation.


Unknown said...

One correction, David. The significance of a ruling that certain searches violate the 4th Amendment is NOT that it allows us to hide, or that it is a call on police not to look. It's that the evidence obtained in that way can't be used in court. That's precisely what accountability involves, when it comes to police overstepping bounds of privacy. They can still look, but the court won't consider what they see.

David Brin said...

Brian your point is valid, but a bit pedantic. The example still reveals an obsession with using official processes and guidelines to limit elite vision... an absurd bulwark for freedom! And the only way such regulations can possibly work is if we have already done the important thing... watching the watchmen.

Tacitus said...

If I might, let me suggest a quick read for you. Yes, it is in a publication you may not care for, but the facts are straight up. This is what has been going on in Wisconsin in the last few years.

A partisan prosecutor, compliant judges and early morning raids on citizens for the "crime" of being politically active as conservatives.

You may not like Governor Walker, or Citizens United, or Republicans, or even me...but this is a chilling picture of what can happen when government is unaccountable.

I invite discussion. I hope my friends here who espouse political philosophies that I respect but do not share will join me in condemnation.


Treebeard said...

I don’t understand why a progressive would argue from history like this. All kinds of “evils” that progressives decry have been ubiquitous for the past 6000 years, but that doesn’t stop your kind from trying to eliminate them. Why the historical fatalism on this issue, but not others?

I don’t see bullying decreasing, but changing form. Just because some of the people doing the bullying now have advanced degrees and law practices, use words, laws, propaganda, software or drones instead of fists, who claim to have “justice” or “progress” on their side, doesn’t prevent them from being bullies. What is progressivism but a form of organized bullying of people who aren’t that interested in the latest innovations? Call it “soft bullying” or “mental bullying” – you do it, I do it, everybody does it. It’s the scourge of this “revenge of the nerds” civilization.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Tacitus
I have read the article
My prediction (for what it's worth)
It will turn out to be a drugs bust - that's exactly the way the US cops handle drug suspects
Possibly the wrong address

The rest of the nonsense linking it to perfectly justifiable inquiries about tax evasion will turn out to be simple lies and evasion

"How dare these people treat us like poor people - we're republicans"

At least they didn't shoot the dogs and the householders

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
(from the previous post)
Pointing a gun at the vender is obvious coercion and "cheating"

Breaking the unions and using your power in-balance
person - company

Is exactly the same thing - just not quite as blatant

In your world
Threatening to withdraw your labor is a horrendous horrible thing
But threatening to destroy somebodies life, have their family thrown out on the street and remove their essential medical cover
is just "business as usual" ???

Tacitus said...


Your prediction is incorrect. The individuals whose houses were raided were not drug dealers. Some were aides of Governor Walker. Others were associated with political advocacy groups. The prosecutors were not looking for drugs. They may in fact not have been looking for anything in particular. The intimidation and the chilling effect on conservative political activity was the main point. If they found something that could actually be used against a politician they loathed, well that was gravy.
Yes, this can be done in America in the modern age. The quirk in Wisconsin law that allows prosecutors this degree of power is a dangerous thing indeed.


David Brin said...

Tacitus... um... have you even remotely noticed who runs Wisconsin, at present? And not just the screeching harpy of a governor, but the screeching harpy legislature and all their appointees?

Did you notice that this article -- devoid of neutral facts or investigative information or statistics, comes from a once-intellectual magazine that has fallen so low that its sole mode and tone are howls, making the CATO guys look like serene sages?

Of course the travesties that are so colorfully related in this lurid melodrama are horrific! But you'll notice... um... there's no link to video footage? That would have been uploaded in any neighborhood in the US, by neighbors? No mention of lawyers at work, afterward. No links.

Hey, I'm not claiming it's a false story! If true, then it is one more reason why my transparency approach is desperately needed.

But puh-lease. You read better "journalism" in the National Enquirer. And at least there you'd also see stories about abuse by oligarchs, too. Never ever in NR.

Even when he is trying to sound cogent, Treeveard comes out looking plain dumb. Um... fellah... your second paragraph is EXACTLY what I was talking about.


David Brin said...

Tacitus... when this is your side's intellectual leader, I think we'll reserve judgment on such lurid melodramas. Sorry... prove it happened.

"Limbaugh: Climate Change ‘One Of The Biggest Scams Ever Perpetrated On The People Of The World’ "

Paul Shen-Brown said...

If I might draw an analogy here, the idea of fighting the elites by trying to create better and better encryption programs is a little bit like doctors and ranchers trying to fight pathogens by pumping patients and livestock full of antibiotics. Sixty years of this has caused numerous pathogens to evolve resistance to most of our medicines, earning them the appellation "supergerms." Today if you find yourself in the hospital you are more likely to die of an infection you caught in the hospital than whatever put you there in the first place. The harder you try to kill the germs, the faster they evolve (increasing selective pressure increases the pace of evolution).

Likewise carrying on an arms race with electronic spies and cheats only forces them to try harder to counter your counter measures. That makes the "run and hide" strategy worse than useless, it actually empowers the enemy. It's a knee jerk reaction and understandable, like overprescribing antibiotics, but it's counterproductive.

Tacitus said...


Here is Politifact, a neutral to perhaps left leaning source.

Perhaps you prefer Mother Jones. They make it all sound pretty sinister and conspiratorial but for an account of who got raided:

You know I am far less prone to conspiracy stuff than, oh....some folks around these parts. But this is in fact public servants run amok. It is of the same cloth, again in my opinion, as using the IRS to suppress political speech.

And please David, have you sunk so low as to insist on pictures to believe something? Oh, very well then.

This is an outrage. The silence of the progressive side of the political spectrum is acquiescence in bullying that has consequences far worse than having your lunch money stolen.

Man up and condemn it.


David Brin said...

Tacitus I have seldom seen you dive into such blithering nonsense. (1) The MotherJones article is so vastly more informative and better written than that hysterical NR screech, yet you won't admit that it was the PROGRESSIVE journal that actually did its homework, investigated and presented a fair account of the situation.

2) When all of this happens on the watch of a spectacularly partisan state governor and legislature and appointees, um, are you freaking kidding me? Goliath deserves our benefit of the doubt?

3) In the NR article... you had to dig hard to find WHEN all this happened... ages ago... and we are left wondering... so? You toss a storm-trooper anecdote at us and no word how the spectacularly well-funded, oligarch-subsidized law firms have done subsequently, counter-prosecuting through Walker-appointed judges, assisted by Walker-appointed attorneys general? And it never occurs to you that there might be a genuine coverup?

4) If the anecdotes are true, they show and illustrate my demand for greater transparency... which REPUBLICANS have blocked at every level and in every way. Where is the transparency in contracts for voting machines? (All companies run by dedicated right wingers.) Where is the transparency on Iraq War contracts? (Signed off to be single-source by Bush Cheney, to their own family companies.)

Are you really and truly going to do the typical confederate thing, and 'refute' the endless tsunami of GOP calamities and statistically irrefutable betrayals with.... anecdotes?

Tacitus said...


Other than mentioning the tone of the Mother Jones article I did not disparage its quality. It is prepared to believe the worst of Republicans but is decent journalism.

The go to source on WI politics is written by a law prof but with a community of commentators from all points of the compass.

Anecdotes. Well, these raids happened. They were almost certainly politically motivated. In my opinion, and on matters Wisconsin I claim better insights, these were retaliation for Walker's clipping the wings of the public sector unions. It raises the question of who really holds the power in a state. Is it the elected officials or the permanent apparatchiks?

I'm not askin' for much here. I simply say that if you accept that dark of night raids for political purposes have happened....will you condemn them?

The politics and party affiliations of the people who are being confronted by armed police officers should not be at issue really.

Of course if you approve of such tactics, you know, for the greater good and all, feel free to say so.


David Brin said...

Tacitus... sorry and never mind. You keep coming back with anecdotes. Just please, remember that larger scale, statistically pertinent trends say a lot more.

Duncan Cairncross said...

The discussion about raids in Wisconsin reminds me about the IRS "scandal"

Which boils down to
Complaining about the IRS doing its job (catching tax cheats)
And then complaining that "they do it too"

If I was an American I would be complaining about the IRS NOT doing it's job
They should be investigating all of them
And they should be resourced so that they can
If they are under resourced then they should concentrate on those "most likely to be cheating"

IMHO somebody who publicly says that they are going to pay as little taxes a possible and that taxes are "theft" is just a tadge more likely to be cheating than somebody who says that taxes are necessary for a civil society

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Breaking a union is similar to threatening the vendor? Could be. It all depends on whether the union or vendor engaged in cheating behaviors. I don't lump all unions together, but I do recognize that some of them have used the immoral practices of bargaining for a closed shop or shutting down a business with a threatening picket line. All you really do when you point out the similarity of all forms of extortion, though, is convince me that cheating shouldn't be tolerated as a problem or as a solution.

You miss an important point regarding labor's threat to remove itself. I have no issue with you making such a threat, but I have a huge problem with it if you also try to block the business from functioning. Picket lines that coerce other employees or customers are engaged in a cheating behavior. If many of you want to withdraw your labor as a union would when it strikes, that's fine too... until the coercive picket line appears. When it does, you do far more than harm management.

I understand your issues with the asymmetry of lay-offs, but the solution should be obvious. Each of us is capable of being employer or employee. If you don't like the asymmetry you face, change sides.

Besides, every time I've been laid off or fired, no one made a threat to destroy my life and have my family tossed out on the street. The closest I've come to receiving such threats came from angry (former) business partners who thought I had just done something particularly evil.

With respect to losing medical coverage, though, I'm inclined to side with you. That's why I'd rather medical coverage not be tied to employment status or employer. I despise when an employer uses a religious belief exception to influence what coverage options an employee can affordably access. I recognize that the exception has to be made, though, so the solution must be to break the link between employer and coverage purchases.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Are you profiling now? Heh. My experience with people like the ones you describe is that most of us pay our taxes properly. Occasionally, some of them make claims the IRS doesn't like and they slap us down for it. It is not wise to anger the bear.

The 'taxes are theft' argument is supposed to be pointed at our fellow citizens and not the IRS. Our tax agents are just following orders.

(Usually they go after people who are worth going after in terms of the money to be recovered. There is little sense pissing off the little cheaters. They might get riled enough to vote.)

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul Shen-Brown: The arms race is inevitable. There are many groups (including my employer) who would prefer their information remain hidden and other groups who want it revealed. My employer will not purchase software not supported by a vendor involved in this arms race.

Remember who gave birth to the internet. Evolution has been in the cards from the start.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
I can see we need to differ

I still believe that the massive asymmetry in power between the employee and the employer means that there cannot be any type of
"free market" for labor

Unions are required to balance that asymmetry - and the way that they balance that is by picketing and preventing the employer from simply employing new (scab) labor

In some future world where the employer did not have such an excess of power then unions would not be as necessary

One of our (NZ) economists (Gareth Morgan)
proposes a universal basic income

- in such a world the employer would only be able to "threaten" an employees "extra money"
so that would go some way towards creating a balance

I think it was Robert Heinlein that said that as long as you were dependent on another person to pay for your food you were not free

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Re - the IRS

They got criticized for investigating incredibly rich groups that publicly said
Tax was theft
They were going to pay as little tax as possible

While it is not illegal to say such things it is very sensible to use such comments in your decisions about priorities

If a detective investigating a murder hear's that somebody has been threatening the victim he is justified in spending some time investigating the person who issued the threat

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I remember the investigation and screeching afterward. A lot of it was political heat I knew would die off with the political season. The thing to remember about it is there is a huge difference between voters threatening a government agency and people threatening a victim. Our IRS agents are not defending victims. They are enforcing tax law on behalf of some people who would prefer they not.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Regarding labor and free markets, I agree that we will have to agree to disagree. It has been enjoyable discussing this with you anyway. You've poked my ideas hard enough that I've had to find better defenses for them. Your technical details and personal experiences required me to make refinements. 8)

There is a new wrinkle you might want to consider, though. It dove-tails with David's focus on accountability. How many of the corporate abuses of employees would survive in a world where employees recorded them and revealed them? Are you REALLY sure you need unions in a world filled with cameras and microphones? I put to you that you might already have enough support to prevent that form of bullying too without having to create another bully to fight the first one.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"there is a huge difference between voters threatening a government agency and people threatening a victim. Our IRS agents are not defending victims. They are enforcing tax law on behalf of some people who would prefer they not."

It's the same thing,
the "victim" is all of the other tax payers

By not enforcing the tax laws they are enabling some people to effectively steal from those who do pay their taxes

Maybe a "murder victim" was the wrong comparison
It should have been somebody boasting about stealing money from the poor box
You don't arrest him for the boast but you do investigate him when money goes missing

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

Oh goodness. The victim is the other tax payers? Someone who managed to avoid hosting a leech is victimizing those who fail to do so or agree to do so?

No way Jose.

I don't mind you investigating the braggart, though. He bragged about performing an immoral act. Not all illegal acts are immoral acts. See?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
That is an interesting point
In a lot of countries the unions sit on the boards and have access to some of that sort of information

This does help to limit the abuses

In some future world with Dr Brin's transparency (and some type of AI to make sense of it)
Plus Gareth Morgan's Universal Basic Income I would believe that union's would become superfluous

Today in the present world - not so much

Incidentally if you ever work in a really good company you normally find that the managers think of their unions as one of the key elements in keeping the firm working as well as possible

In that environment the union becomes a club that keeps everybody informed and is mainly responsible for organizing the annual trip to Blackpool

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Oh goodness. The victim is the other tax payers? Someone who managed to avoid hosting a leech is victimizing those who fail to do so or agree to do so?"

Taxes are the price you pay for a civil society
Not paying your "dues" is the act of the "leech"
Avoiding your taxes is like shoplifting - it simply stealing and the rest of us have to make up the difference

Alfred Differ said...

Allow me to offer a slight variation on your tax cliche and analogy.

Taxes are the price you pay to live in a society accustomed to extortion and a truce we call 'civil behavior.'

Avoiding your taxes is like shoplifting in a store that forces you to take it's products and services even if you don't want them. That's okay, though, because everyone else knows you benefit, thus it would be immoral for you not to pay.

I'm sorry Duncan, but you are not doing a good thing by forcing someone else to behave the way you think they should. You might be doing a necessary thing for certain immoral behaviors, but I'm not with you regarding most taxation.

Alfred Differ said...

Incidentally if you ever work in a really good company you normally find that the managers think of their unions as one of the key elements in keeping the firm working as well as possible.

Hmm... It's called collusion in my book. It is a corruption. Who exactly are the union managers working for in this scenario? Collusion is what leads to closed shops.

You remind me of a brother of a guy I once worked with. Both are very nice people, but both take your position as a matter of faith. The brother is still active and rails against misbehavior, but never against the faith. No evidence could alter his understanding of the place unions must have in the market.

Have you considered what evidence would be required for you to ever reconsider? For me it would be something that demonstrated the solvability of the resource planning problem using family-style economizing rules (they tend to be patriarchal) at the level of a community. I don't think the problem can be solved, though we've tried for thousands of years. My belief is vulnerability to a mathematical attack, so I'm not quite holding a faith position.

locumranch said...

I believe that Treebeard is correct in this one regard:

Bullying has changed form in recent years. The type of bullying that David & I know so well, the free-lance schoolyard bullying of our youth, has gone the way of unsupervised leisure, only to be replaced by a more systemic variety.

In in our effort to protect our children from every negative interaction (including bullying), we commit unspeakable spiritual violence against them. We organize their every waking moment; we chaperone them from sun-up to sun-down; we control & oppress them with unquestionable layers of hierarchy; we lecture them from our institutional bully pulpit; and we deprive them of both tempering challenge & emotional maturity.

By removing every pain & obstacle from their path, we infantilize our children; we create generations of well-conditioned VICTIMS; we deprive them of the Wheel of Pain that made Conan THE indomitable barbarian; and we become the soul-crushing stifling bullies from which we sought to protect them.

Finally, there are ways to defy the authority of the Nanny-Cam Surveillance State:

The first way is direct resistance in the form of cellular signal jammers which (although illegal & expensive now) will soon become as cheap as tissue paper by the same technology that makes cameras, computers and phones ever smaller & cheaper.

The second way is misdirection, made possible by the deliberate manufacture & introduction of misinformation (GIGO), so it becomes increasingly difficult for any authority to distinguish fantasy from fact, much like Colbert's comical campaign to alter Wikipedia to indicate a plague of elephants.

And, the third (and my personal fave) is massive full disclosure, an old but effective legal trick, wherein individuals overwhelm authority with terabytes of truthful trivia, so much so that every potentially useful needle of information is buried in a heap of useless detail.

French peasants purported used all of the above to halt industrial production by introducing their wooden shoes into delicate equipment, causing production to cease & the machinery to fail.

Hence the term "Sabotage".


Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
If we had something like Heinlein's "Coventry" that those who disagree could go to I would say that my stance about taxes was absolutely correct
We don't so I am forced to say it's only 99% correct!

As far as tax is concerned I fall back to Benjamin Franklin

"All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of.
But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition.

He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages.
He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it."

---- Benjamin Franklin, letter to Robert Morris, December 25, 1783

As far as our other concern, unions and equality of markets
I laid out in a previous post conditions I would accept as fair to relinquish unions

How about you doing the same? - how unfair/unbalanced would it have to be before you relinquish the free market?

I call it cooperation in a positive sum game
And the BEST way to go

An example would be the difference between German car companies
(Collusion - Cooperation)
And US car companies

Jumper said...

I disagree that fighting the information gatherers is a hopeless strategy. It is worthwhile in the short run but like David says, likely futile in the long. Nevertheless, it is decidedly NOT futile right now. On the other hand, when I grumble about all these trackers and back doors in my machines, I remind myself that my credit rating has existed a long time, the same sorts of information already gleaned, and in many ways is independent of the newer forms of surveillance, so I shouldn't get much more overheated than I was 25 years ago. I hate those credit rating bastards!
Tacitus, I will note any seizure of a computer nowadays will go down like that. Its justice is a matter I'll comment on shortly. One thing that burns me up in our justice system is the ease with which people are commanded to not speak. But that's just one thing.

Tacitus said...


Evidently you define an anecdote as a fact that you do not like.

I find your unwillingness to answer my direct query....well I am not sure how to feel about it.

Disappointed. I had thought better of you. My policy is to always answer direct questions.

And a little frightened. You appear to be tacitly saying - and I am ever reluctant to put words in your mouth- that unfettered use of the coercive powers of the state is OK....if the ones under scrutiny are The Bad People, the Kulacks.

It is fortunate that writers seldom are given the reigns of power.

I would in parting say that your views in this matter are not held by the majority of your fellow citizens.

I find that encouraging.


Jumper said...

Alfred, I don't think there is a fundamental right to operate as a recognized limited liability corporation. It's a privilege which may be retracted at any time for any reason the citizens may have, if they pull the legal levers and make it so. That includes labor law or lack of it.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alfred, it was only an analogy, so I doubt there is 100% isometry between the evolution of pathogens under a regime of constant assault from antibiotics and social pathogens who are targeted by defensive softwares. After all, defending your data from hackers does not kill the hackers. But it does put me in mind of the other side of the analogy. in 1992 there was a deadly outbreak of cholera in Peru that sickened at least a million people and killed over 10,000. But an outbreak of the same pathogen in Arizona two years later went by virtually unnoticed. the same pathogen caused nothing more than flu-like symptoms. Why the difference? In Peru the water supply was natural, untreated for pathogens, so the germs could infect people through what they drank. But in the US the water is treated so the pathogen could not get around that way. Instead it depended on people being healthy enough to walk around and sneeze of people for its transmission, meaning that it was in the pathogen's interest to become less virulent. You can't spread the germs around if you are stuck in a hospital bed unable to walk.

Dr. Brin's idea of sousveillance may be a social equivalent to cleaning the water supply. By limiting the availability of pathways to cheating, cheaters may find it necessary to limit their virulence to much more small-scale cheats. But once again, this is an analogy, and analogies are never perfect.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Loci apparently likens himself to Conan the Barbarian. Now I only watch that silly movie once, and a very long time ago, but I am quite sure I remember that while Conan became strong because of that wheel, everyone else died. In naive, social darwinist terms this might seem justified - all those who died were "unfit" by Spencer's standards. But by the standards of the rest of the human race, this was barbaric injustice and not tolerable by any functional human society. No Hippocratic Oath in trog fiction...

Berial said...

Just a small correction, "The recent killing of an unarmed kid by a North Charleston S.C. police officer might have led to a murder charge in any event.."

If I'm not mistaken that 'kid' was a 51 year old man.

Jumper said...

Yes, the unarmed kid recently shot on videotape in SC by a cop managed to live. This stuff comes so fast nowadays it's hard to keep track.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan, Alfred
My views accord much more with Duncan's for various reasons.

1. Anglo business, esp. finance, has become very simple and model driven. Economists accept the Pareto maxim8imization of wealth/income distribution. [Despite David's belief in "strong middle class", this is always a power law distribution with a minor truncation at the low end via redistribution. It certainly isn't even close to "diamond shaped".

2. Work relationships are very asymmetric. The power is very much on the employers side, and getting worse. Just read the latest abuses of "just in time" labor demand, euphemistically called "flexible labor".

3. Professional managers used to just be paid, and shareholders controlled the remuneration. Ever since Jensen suggested realigning incentives, senior managers became shareholders. But they maintained control and this led to escalating wage differentials. Funny how managers became value adders, while the rank and file workforce remained "costs".\]

4. We have largely lost the idea of "fairness" in our social context. It isn't a requirement, but we know from experiments that primates are quite sensitive to fairness. It shouldn't be a surprise that humans are too. Ignoring that introduces all sorts of externalities that simple business economics ignores. Perhaps behavioral economics will help reverse this situation. At5 least we know that outside of Anglo businesses, far more stakeholders are included, e.g. Duncan's example of German companies.

If you want to run a country using algorithmic AIs that maximize returns and ignore the larger social context, by all means do it. But I do not think this is long term sustainable, and I really resent the idea that somehow everyone is a true free agent who can be an employer or employee. This ignores a huge range of factors that is laughable.

Social organization is largely a human construct that we can shape. Deferring to simple models like "free markets" is nothing but an abrogation of the possibilities of making a better world for everyone, not just those at the tip of the system.

Jumper said...

Re locum's sabotage campaign, also email small files of completely random gibberish. Don't forget to occasionally search on Google for imaginary people you just made up from your imagination. Betty Werdliak of Youngstown Ohio, born in 1979 comes to mind...

Jumper said...

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David Brin said...

Tacitus, I confess that I felt I had allocated plenty of time to you, by reading that atrocious ”journalism” in the National Review article… and following up with the vastly better Mother Jones reportage, and seriously considering:

(1) the NR’s blatantly hysterical-shrieking anecdotal exaggeration, though the MJ piece does indicate a high level of nastyness and nit-tat collapse of civil restraint, in Wisconsin.

(2) whether or not it was an exaggeration, I spoke to the absolute necessity of preventing such abuses from happening, whether anecdotes or tsunamis, by empowering citizens and their lawyers with sousveillance tools,

(3) that all instruments of state control in Wisconsin are currently owned and operated by the party that’s now whimpering about persecution, and hence, who owes a burden of proof, here?

In fact, I answered you, top to bottom, while you refused to address even one of my counter points. Instead of paraphrasing and answering me, you emulated NR and replied with lurid, ad hominem shrieks,

You say: “You appear to be tacitly saying - and I am ever reluctant to put words in your mouth- that unfettered use of the coercive powers of the state is OK....if the ones under scrutiny are The Bad People, the Kulacks.”

Yes! You are right! That IS how I "appear" to you. Utterly delusionally, but I accept your confession.

To which I respond that you, sir, are overwrought, and clearly grasping at straws in order to hold onto loyalty to a movement that has betrayed you and gone insane. Not one aspect of your accusation has the slightest bearing on me, or on anything I said.

“I would in parting say that your views in this matter are not held by the majority of your fellow citizens.”

Drivel. I answered your questions. I deplored the actions described in the lurid piece of yellow “journalism”… IF those actions happened. (You never answered my specific assertions regarding the quality of the source.)

Final note: I am the person on this planet who is pushing hardest to empower all citizens with the means to make sure that power abusers are constrained. No matter what direction the abuse comes from. Moreover, you know that I have often skewered oppressive moves by leftists, as well.

YOU are the one who is incapable of turning his head.

Above all… I do more in that cause, in any single week, than you will accomplish across your entire lifetime.

Moreover, you know this to be true.

David Brin said...

Always, always hilarious. “In in our effort to protect our children from every negative interaction (including bullying), we commit unspeakable spiritual violence against them. We organize their every waking moment; we chaperone them from sun-up to sun-down; we control & oppress them with unquestionable layers of hierarchy; we lecture them from our institutional bully pulpit; and we deprive them of both tempering challenge & emotional maturity.”

And thus, inadvertently, old locum has revealed a personal datum! That he has no kids. What a caricature! It has about as much bearing on actual reality as his strawman fantasies about my beliefs.

But talk about fantasies! The notion that jamming and misdirection can possibly work, in a noise vs information arms race with elites, shows that this fellow ought to write stuff with dragons in it! “Overwhelm” elites? Seriously? Tell us how that French resistance with sabots went. Yeah, that’s gonna work.

Tacitus said...


I really wonder why I bother...

OK David, how many credible sources will you require to acknowledge that the John Doe investigations in Wisconsin raided the homes of numerous citizens in a rather nebulous probe of unspecified wrong doing.

Would three suffice. Perhaps six or seven? This has been reported in all the major newspapers in this part of the world, most of which cannot reasonably be accused of partisan bias. A number, Good Sir, would help me out. I quoted the NR piece first not because of the quality of writing bu simply because it was current and tied in to the rather complicated legal aftermath of these raids.

With that behind us I am perfectly prepared to discuss the handful of actual wrong deeds uncovered. Very small spuds and the sort of stuff I am quite sure you could find around the periphery of any political operation. Irony alert, Walker was being criticized for using a private email system....I guess that now gets a pass, eh?

You dismiss this as anecdote but this is my world. Politically Wisconsin is not California. Scott Walker is genuinely hated by the left. I can see why, he has in effect turned a blue state into a (light) red one and "broke the rice bowl" as they say in his limiting the political power of public service unions. See FDR and if I recall correctly, George Meany on this issue.

The point, and you seem to be missing it, is that it is not clear who is running the State of Wisconsin. If Prosecutors and Judges with partisan agendas, and usually very little chance of electoral defeat, can attempt to undo legislation and to intimidate the political supporters of the governor or in fact of ANY party....then they are at least in part usurping the power of the other two branches of government and ill using the citizenry.

But my question for you was simple enough. If (see above) over zealous prosecutors are ordering early morning raids by armed police on households based on you join me in condemning this practice?

Sure film everything. Several of the links had photos. I doubt the people whose houses were being raided would have the gumption to grab the video camera although they sure ought to. But these were mostly fairly average folks. Politically active, yes, Karl Rove, no. I tend to think that just passively filming is not enough but it is sure a good plan.

But what the heck. Its only Republicans right? They must be guilty of something, yes?

It saddens me that the forces of modern Liberalism who once annoyingly, if correctly, supported the rights of neo Nazis to march in Skokie Illinois, could have sunk to a level that they do not answer with passion "THE POLICE WILL NOT BE USED AS POLITICAL ENFORCERS!".

Do you ever wonder why voices Contrary to yours sometimes drift in, absorb a bit of rhetorical abuse then wander off? I hear from some of them off forum from time to time.....

Well, its a Free Country. Express the opinions you like. I won't try to suppress them. I won't even use words like shrieking, delusionaly or overwrought in my answers.

I respect you and your opinions and will continue to consider them.

Just not sure why I bother some days!


raito said...

Re: Wisconsin...

I live here, and I don't much care for either side.

Really, it's a case of one side trying to figure out how to do the most damage to the other side, and back again.

Did Walker's guys break a bunch of laws? Probably. At least one plead guilty.
Did his enemies attempt to destroy his people? Certainly.

Dr. Brin, you don't live here, so you weren't getting the daily coverage of most of this.

As for our governor, my opinion is that he's cunning, but not very bright. He still thinks that the path to 'jobs' is to deregulate, even when every business leader candidly says that only demand for goods and services can create jobs (not that they're above wanting fewer interferences). My hope is that he will actually run for President and lose. There's already rumblings from his own side that it's a bad idea to both run a state and run for President, and at least a few think he's going to ignore the state.

The oddest theory is that the anti-Walker mob was maneuvering into getting the John Doe secrecy stuff killed so that it couldn't be used against them.

It certainly got weird when there was the recall election. I asked a few who'd voted for Walker in the first place if they were going to sign the petition. Of course, they said no. I then asked which they thought would be more inconveniencing to their elected official: a recall election that he won, or the endless whining and pot-shots about how he's lost his mandate if the recall never happened. That got some confused looks.

As for bullying, now that my children are getting to be school-age, I can't say as I see all that much difference than when I was young on balance. On the one hand, incidence is down. On the other, enforcement against bullying is also down (mostly because officials avoid having to deal with nasty parent, regardless of how nasty their children are). But punishment for retaliation against bullies is way, way up. Not exactly ideal. Nor is the idea that the only solution is to tell some adult (who probably won't do anything).

While I may not agree with Ender Wiggin's methods (killing), I can sympathize with his goals. The bullied victim does not seek peaceful coexistence, and often not even revenge. What they seek is no more contact with their tormentor. Because the only surefire, permanent solution is to never have to deal with them again.

But I do agree that it is action that is mandated, and most under the control of the victim. That can produce acceptable, though not ideal results.

In my case, I did stand up for others. But I also sometimes had to tell those others that their behavior was stupid, as no good comes from poking the beast with a stick.

raito said...


(didn't see your last comment while I was sporadically working on my own)

I had a girlfriend from Skokie at the time of those marches.

The old Jews said,"Let them march. It's a free country. Don't make it a news item, or you're publicizing their politics."

It was the young Jews that insisted on making a spectacle of it. And thus got the neo-Nazis on the news.

sociotard said...

I just got linked to this little scifi story from 1973. Dang, Brin, that's [b]your[/b] generation. What were you guys smoking? (story is about the scary future where the government just will not let up with the safety requirements already)

Tacitus said...


Although it is a seperate issue, I am quite prepared to discuss the merits and shortcomings of Walker as a Governor or as a Presidential candidate. I agree he has a certain innate "political sense" but that does not mean I endorse all his actions. I am not sure how I would feel about voting for him for President. I guess in part it depends on the alternatives..

David, a Peace Offering if I may. An article about granting chimps a habeus corpus hearing to see if they are people!

Off to work now.


locumranch said...

As it has little chance of success, David is quite right to mock the idea of 'successful resistance' against state surveillance because, in & of itself, such 'David v Goliath' resistance has little or no chance of success.

However, it was not my intent to suggest that this is a David v Goliath situation. Instead, I was thinking of Eric Frank Russell's "Wasp" wherein a minor irritant (a single non-fatal stinging insect) can kill 4 grown men in a moving motor vehicle by provoking a disproportional panicky (arm-waving) over-reaction that leads the surveillance state to drive itself over a (metaphorical) cliff under its own volition.

Likewise, the purpose of my 'Wheel of Pain' reference was not propose favoritism toward a brutal form of social darwinism. It is was only to point out that 'Advertisty Builds Character' (overcoming it, that is), the theory being that the greater challenge that we overcome as individuals, the greater we become in character, insomuch as the bullies that both the youthful David & I were forced to overcome were responsible, in part, for making us into the tenacious unstoppable bastards we became.

In this sense, the so-called 'improvement' of our society, especially the successful elimination of childhood bullies & other 'uncivilised' obstacles, represents a great disservice (oft referred to as infantilzation and/or 'pussification') to our treasured offspring, as it also eliminates valuable character-building opportunites, making them (our precious babies) weaker, softer & less capable of defending their own interests in future endeavours.

This is how Rome fell. This is also how all great civilisations, including ours, fall: We fall victims to our own successes; we become increasingly soft, girlish & decadent; we forget the ADVERSITY that shaped us into individuals of great character; and we play 'waiting for the barbarians', hoping against hope that some other 'adult' will come along, change our nappies and RESCUE US because (as precious hyper-civilised children) we can no longer care for ourselves.


Jumper said...

Tacitus, these questions are purely Socratic: Is it your belief that no home computers should ever be seized by any grand jury investigation? If you think under some circumstances they should be, then what would such a seizing look like?

This question is just from me: What evidence is there that the prosecutor conducting the grand jury investigation is politically biased? (not being from Wisconsin and not knowing, I assume there is some that a reasonable person would take as fairly good evidence so.) If so, was there any suggestion from anyone that the prosecutor recuse himself?

matthew said...

Comments about kids today being "soft" or "girly" (nice misogynistic tell there locum) seem tellingly wrong when compared to the children I actually know.

The kids I know are confident; maybe you might mistake that for "arrogant." The kids I know are loving; make that "soft" in the dumbass caveman world of treebeard. They are accepting of outsiders, so maybe "liberal." The kids I know have less fear than I had as a kid, so call them "spoiled" or "coddled."

Fact is, I'd bet my life on them. With their "soft" cooperation, their "liberal" rules on how to treat others fairly, their "spoiled" insistence that life doesn't mean winner-take-all. With all that squishy self-esteem and teamwork. Those kids will be the ones that will carry the flag of the Enlightenment.

And I, for one, do not think that the benefits of "overcoming adversity" by standing up to bullies somehow makes up for getting the shit beat out of you as a kid. My kids are tenacious bastards all on their own. They don't need abuse to teach them to be stronger.

Jumper said...

Bullies are a mixed lot, too. Sometimes when a kid has enough and punches a bully, all of a sudden the bully wants to be your pal. True story.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

If anyone is interested in reading a serious treatment (groundbreaking, even) on resistance to governmental authority, I will paste in a link to an excellent book (and a thoughtful author generally) on the matter. It's a fascinating ground-up look at state-level societies and the ways in which "little people" can impact them. If I can ever find my own copy I would gladly skim through it this summer.

David Brin said...

Tacitus I like you. But your effort to corner me with “have you stopped beating your wife?” is absurd. I made EXTREMELY clear that I denounce all gestapo tactics by all authority figures at all times, and if that typically insipid National Review screech-howl actually portrays real events? Then the bastards should be held accountable.

It is the core thing I have fought for, far far more than you have.

Even if the NR exaggerates... If the vastly more journalistic piece by MJ is correct, then the Civil War has come to Wisconsin, big time, and welcome to our world in America at-large. I denounce the excesses of both sides.

Nu? I said all that. You accused me of NOT having said all that. You lied. Period.

The real question is where are YOU when the anecdotes go the other way? Or when it can be statistically shown that anecdotes of troglodytic bullying and cheating go the other way 99% of the time?

Wisconsin has crushed the public employee unions! Yippee! In fact, I have made very clear, repeatedly, that I find some liberal-labor stances counter-productive, including excessive cop-solidarity and too-generous teacher tenure.

And yet, with unions having plummeted in power and influence for forty years, their wealth and membership at all time lows, And with worker wages and conditions having been utterly stagnant since the Reagan era, while the top 0.01% skyrockets, let me ask IS THERE ANY LEVEL of union weakness that you would accept as enough?

Seriously, name it now. How weak must the labor movement get, before you are satiated and willing to say: “Okay, the plummet has gone far enough and now maybe I should turn my anti-authority reflex at the oligarchs who have grown ever more powerful, while working men and women do ever worse.”

Hm… no? You cannot picture such a threshold? Such a cutoff? There is NO level at which you might admit your grandparents in the Greatest Generation had a point?

You accuse me of excusing liberal “enforcers.” What howling and incredible utter bullshit.

Who is pulling out of the Drug War? Blue states. Who is ending gerrymandering? Blue states. Where are there transparency laws? Blue states. Where were the cops forced to wear cop-cams without there being a murder-scandal, first? Blue states. Where are there whistle blower laws? Blue states.

Where are Assange and Snowden gods among the young? The universities.

When the ACLU fights for the Freedom of Information Act, does the precedent apply only to liberal causes? Bull. It lets lawyers and reporters from ALL sides see more.

SHOW US the pro-transparency measures pushed by the Bushes, or passed by Congress, when the GOP owned every branch of government. No, seriously, I'd love to see your list.

Do I think there are cases of abuse by liberal authorities? Sure!

But you did not come at me to show me that.

You came at us waving this anecdote in order to give yourself the excuse to stay loyal to a side that does vastly worse shit daily. And that I will not abide.

David Brin said...

Ah, back to a mix. Again strawmanning me as holding positions I never took. But notice guys, how I yawn over that, now.

Should kids learn from adversity? Maybe . Not at the level of Chicken Little Locum running around screeching “kids haven’t suffered! So they’ll be meat for barbarians!” That is the mantra of zero sum enemies of the west for 250 years, and you guys have heard/read me refute that with ease. Most recently, it was utterly refuted by the heroes of flight UA 93.

But should kids experience roughness to get strong? Sure. Our boys were Eagle Scouts who served on trail crews in the summer desert heat. All three kids got 2nd degree black belts. What the heck do you want from me?

In fact, while philosophically and scientifically I do not believe this “suffering prevents decadence” crap… I have to admit. There is a part of me that wonders if the knob might need to be cranked 1% more in locum’s direction. Just this once. Re just this topic.

David Brin said...

Jumper, if you read my first paragraph (main post) you'll see that I did exactly that.

Tacitus said...

Jumper first
Of course I can't see into the heart of another man so it is not possible to say for certain if the prosecutor here, a guy named Chisholm, is biased. All such matters have an element of subjectivity. But:
1. he expanded an initial request for investigation - by Walker's people btw -into a much more wide ranging fishing expedition.
2.The main group aggrieved by the changes in Wisconsin law are the public employee unions. His wife is an active shop steward in such a union.
3.the requirements for secrecy have been heavily impressed upon the subjects of the probe but information is routinely leaked to the press from the Prosecutor's office. No investigation of this has been done.
4.Most damning to me is that the second, more politically charged John Doe investigation was purportedly to look for evidence of collaboration between candidates and outside organizations in the recall election. Putting aside the question of whether this was in fact illegal, the key point is that a wide spread probe of Conservative groups was undertaken. No investigation at all, zero, into whether Progressive groups did anything similar. No search warrants, nothin'.
5. The raids were designed to intimidate. Do you need to go in at a predawn hour with armed police?


Tacitus said...

I have re-read your various replies to my initial post. Amid much "chaff" you do appear to agree that raiding the homes of citizens for political "crimes" is wrong. I am sure you meant it to be clear but amid all the griping about the first source I quoted it was difficult for me to pick this out.
I accept your current assurances on the matter.
To answer one of your questions, I support private sector unions and would only caution their leadership to balance their interests with the long term viability of their industries. I am cautiously in favor of contracts that specify union labor, perhaps with a provision that their bids cannot exceed non union bids by more than say 10-25%. Unions have been a source of much benefit to America. Their training programs are first rate. Public sector unions are problematic and need tighter controls.

You ask a great many other questions and I always try to answer anything politely put to me. But calling me a liar is a little over the line, so maybe another day.


David Brin said...

Calling me someone who conditionally excuses gestapo tactics based on party affiliation was also way "over the top." It happened first and was a lie. Hence, ... never mind.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"raiding the homes of citizens for political "crimes" is wrong"

Is it?
By subverting democracy a "political crime" is (or can be)one of the worst crimes there are
You could argue that "stealing" the 2000 election led directly to the deaths of over a million people

IMHO "political crimes" are right up there with murder and rape

So "raiding the homes of citizens" for evidence of "political crimes" is not definitely "wrong"

It may be an over reaction but with the stakes being thousands of peoples lives it may also be justified

How about if they were "raiding the homes of citizens" because there was evidence of tampering with voting machines??

Is abusing the democratic limits on election spending not vote buying like in the old "Rotten Boroughs" ??

Duncan Cairncross said...

Another point on the investigation,

Just because there is a complaint against one party or person does not mean that you automatically investigate another person or party

Having received complaints about the Walker campaign it was investigated

I don't see why that would automatically require a similar investigation of his competitors?

Looking at it from a crime prospective is "rounding up the usual suspects" not a standard procedure?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Further rant on Productivity Improvement and Wages

I spent most of my working career “Improving Productivity”
After 7 years as a Quality Manager at the Darlington Engine Plant increasing our output from 80 engines/day to 240 engines/day without spending any significant capital I was seconded to the USA as part of “Advanced Manufacturing”
I became an “Tech Specialist” – to be rude a “Corporate Seagull”
(flies over squawks about a lot makes a mess on the floor and flies away)

I found that what I had to do was talk to the engineers and workers at a plant,
find out what they wanted to do
Do a little filtering and write up a proposal
(Which was pretty similar to what I had been doing at Darlington)
I would also add any other good ideas that I had seen or heard about at any of the other plants
Then use my “Corporate Status” to push it through their management and help them implement it
I think I had about a 40% success rate – the other 60% I just could not get past management
But that saved millions

This was where the productivity improvements came from – the work force
I don’t believe I ever saw anything useful coming from the very top ranks of management

So – most of the productivity came from the 99%
We did get some gains from capital – not as much as you would think

When I look at the disconnect between wages and productivity over the last 40 years I see two things
(1) It’s unfair – the reward is not going to those who created it
(2) From a “market” point of view it’s stupid – if you don’t reward behaviour –
and especially if people see their ideas benefiting others
you reduce that behaviour – simple as that
How much higher would that productivity curve have gone if we had been rewarding that behaviour?

Jumper said...

I read an interesting quote the other day and thought this bunch would be amused - or bemused - by it.
"Many promising reconciliations have broken down because, while both parties come prepared to forgive, neither party comes prepared to be forgiven." – Charles Williams
This Charles Williams:

Tacitus said...


If you allude to the recent interchange twixt myself and our Esteemed Host I say...

Just a vigorous discussion mixed with the usual limitations of internet communication, where what we are sure we are saying clearly is sometimes not quite so - dare I say it - transparent.

I bear no ill will and can shrug stuff off with the best of 'em.

Guess I left a few of your earlier questions unanswered but I felt the topic had outstayed its welcome.


Jumper said...

Actually, that quote interested me for reasons in general, not specific to you or conversation here. But of course it seems to relate to all sorts of things...!

I often drop references to stuff that confuses me and if someone looks for rhetoric in it, god knows what they'll find, because all I know is, I have to think about whatever it is some more!

raito said...


Your post reminds me of a couple things. The first is the book 'First Break All The Rules'. In short, it says that the only way to predict productivity is to ignore managers and ask the people on the line.

The second comes for a systems analysis class where my teacher told of a project he was involved in where the executives got together to decide what to do. They also had an older secretary come in to take notes. Turns out that every time one of those executives would say 'we currently do this...', the secretary would prove that, no, the company didn't.

As for unions, it's a complex topic for me. On the one hand, I find outlawing unions to be against freedom of assembly (I can say that I find no-strike clauses for police and fire to be practical). On the other, I don't like people being forced to join and pay money to have a job. The way I see it, the unions want to represent everybody, so a contract that says it only covers their members is unacceptable to them. On the other, the company doesn't really want to maintain separate agreements with union and non-union people.

Sometimes I think Robinson was right with Mars. Labor owns the company, and management are guns for hire. Unfortunately, that's pretty much what we have these days at the big companies. Do a poor job, get paid off and move to the next job.

More to the point of Dr. Brin's points, the main problem is that the John Doe investigations are about as opaque as it gets, under the guise that if no wrongdoing is found, then the innocents don't have their reputation tarnished.


This document outlines the differences between grand jury and John Doe proceedings in WI:

Major differences are that in John Doe there is only the judge, with some expanded powers, can be initiated by citizen complaint, and can have much expanded secrecy.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley (responding to Alfred):

and I really resent the idea that somehow everyone is a true free agent who can be an employer or employee

It's one of those things where (in theory) anyone can switch roles, but everyone cannot. Just as everybody can't get rich by playing the lottery. Or more reasonably, everyone can't beat the market by reading the same advice (thanks, Dilbert).

LarryHart said...


I had a girlfriend from Skokie at the time of those marches.

Small world. I lived in Evanston, right next door to Skokie.

It was the young Jews that insisted on making a spectacle of it. And thus got the neo-Nazis on the news.

Well, there is some benefit to having the general public notice that there are still Nazis running around. Until then, I thought they had gone the way of the dodo in '45.

LarryHart said...


I am not sure how I would feel about voting for him [Walker] for President. I guess in part it depends on the alternatives.

Well, my in-laws live in Texas, and while I doubt they voted for W for president, they were glad to see him out of Texas.

So, there's that. :)

Laurent Weppe said...

"Moreover, if you do not know the song, and its message, then you deserve no part in this discussion"

Hear that, y'all? Get the fuck out if you don't know pop culture references from the US' sixties!

Well, Mr Brin, let me tell you than unless prove to me that you know the lyrics and message of France Gall's 1966's hit single, I will forever consider you unfit to partake in any discussion regarding Human Rights.


"And thus, inadvertently, old locum has revealed a personal datum! That he has no kids"

Don't be so certain: he may have spawned offsprings.
Raised offsprings, on the other hand...

Jumper said...

"after Act 24 a judge is required only to
refer complaints to district attorneys, not
investigate them, and any investigation that
does occur in response to such complaints
is discretionary rather than mandatory."

Thanks! It's all clear except the above. Unclear if "required only" means "required to only" or "the only requirement is" leaving judge discretion after referring to D.A

David Brin said...

Merci bien, mon ami Laurent. La vie c'est mieux maintenant, apres ecouter de les Sucettes! Quelle sagesse. Alors! Le changement dans ma tete!

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

"raiding the homes of citizens for political "crimes" is wrong"

Is it?
By subverting democracy a "political crime" is (or can be)one of the worst crimes there are.

I think Tactitus was going more for "for politically-motivated reasons", with the implication that the actual "crimes" in question were trumped up excuses.

LarryHart said...


Just a vigorous discussion mixed with the usual limitations of internet communication, where what we are sure we are saying clearly is sometimes not quite so - dare I say it - transparent.

Glad to hear it. I'd hate to see you depart.

On the issue you presented, you know I've got no love for Walker. I do also have a great deal of fear and loathing for Gestapo tactics by anyone in any kind of power.

But Breitbart and company permanently spoiled me for any expectation of reality when right-wingers complain about liberal excesses. I'm not saying the incident didn't happen as you present, but I'm saying that if the New Republic says it's raining outside, I'll probably leave my umbrella at home.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

In fact, while philosophically and scientifically I do not believe this “suffering prevents decadence” crap… I have to admit. There is a part of me that wonders if the knob might need to be cranked 1% more in locum’s direction. Just this once. Re just this topic

Really, except for the inevitable "blame the women" phrasing, I thought that particular post of locum's was one of his...Best. :)

There is a danger, I suppose, in not exposing our kids to adversity, just as there is a danger in lessening humanity's resistance to smallpox. The hope, I also suppose, is to get to a new equilibrium (on the good side) rather than a pendulum which will inevitably swing back to the bad side.

Alex Tolley said...

There is a danger, I suppose, in not exposing our kids to adversity

It's all gone downhill now that the kids don't join in the mammoth hunts.

The pointless mortality and morbidity toll as a consequence of facing "adversity" that includes an element of danger makes so much sense. I'd rather take the higher survival rate than expose people to some sort of "character building" adversity.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Kids facing adversity

I'm totally against bullying and I don't believe that we have gone far enough never mind "too far" in preventing/controlling that

However when I was a kid I would wander about the fields and woods near my home - fall in the ditches and chase small animals
I don't see these activities as being excessively dangerous and I am not in favor of the excessive molly coddling of kids - let them climb trees!

I have been reading about the problems some parents in the US are having about "free range kids"

If this type of thinking becomes universal the next generation of kids will have no fun at all

Alex Tolley said...

I don't see these activities as being excessively dangerous and I am not in favor of the excessive molly coddling of kids - let them climb trees!

It is all about perceived risk tolerance. One needs to recall the risks we accepted as normal that are now unacceptable today. We shouldn't be totally cocooned, but we should appreciate that we did take unnecessary risks that might not have been apparent. Almost all of us can look back with rose tinted spectacles and forget that we are ignoring survivorship bias.

LarryHart said...

@Duncan and Alex

I have to say I'm with Duncan on the free-range kids thing. Having parents arrested because they let their kids walk home from a park three blocks away--that's not the sort of society I want to live in.

Yes, we're more risk-aware these days than when the earth was cooling back in the 1960s, but except for those risks that actually lead to death or permanent disability, we do seem too focused on protecting kids from experiences that we ourselves learned our capabilities (and limits) from.

Alex Tolley said...

Having parents arrested because they let their kids walk home from a park three blocks away

That is going to far. OTOH, if those blocks meant crossing freeways...

I certainly remember safely cycling in England back in the 1950's and 60's, no helmet, and no accidents. Yet kids did regularly get head injuries, apart from the all too common broken arms. Today in the US, I wouldn't dream of cycling near the crazies on the roads and certainly wouldn't let my kids do so either.
Conditions have changed. That may be a California thing, but I doubt it.

We can compensate with bike lanes and enforce helmets, and that is all to the good as a trade off.

As regards risks, I am always reminded of the tragic air crash at a British Air Show in the 1950's when jets were allowed to fly over crowds. It was obviously an unanticipated risk then, but we have learned to be smarter since then.

There was a reason that stories about wolves eating children in dark forests were told. It was dangerous. Would anyone seriously allow their children to chase wolves in the forest today to get some experience "chasing after wild animals"?

I recall a book that I read to my kids about how to experience strangers and emphasizing the importance of not being fearful, as most people are not monsters. If anything, it is adults in the US who see dangers lurking everywhere and try to protect themselves with security blankets. I really must check for a terrorist under my bed before sleeping tonight. ;)

Acacia H. said...

Oh look. One of my triggers. Let's just poke at it and see... yup. Paw's in the trap once more.

Dr. Brin, in regards to bullying? You are wrong.

Let's see. Why might your boys not have reported as much bullying? Hmm. Perhaps because you live in a good neighborhood, are not lower class, are educated, and are white?

Do you know what I come across on Facebook, various news websites, and other sources? Time and time again I find instances of some LGBT teen who commits suicide because of bullying. I hear about young women who kill themselves because of bullying. I hear of instance after instance after instance of... bullying. And yes, it is being reported constantly and there is far less tolerance for it... but just because your boys did not encounter bullying does not mean it's going away.

Do you want to know where there is bullying? The webcomic community. Creatives show up on the web, create their own little stories, and some asshole shows up and tears down their work, calls it shit, calls them shit, tells them they are useless pathetic little turds, and laughs at them.

Someone creates something nice, and someone else feels the need to whip out the virtual dick and piss all over it. I don't care if it's writing, art, personal views, admitting to being an atheist, or whatever. If you are the nail that sticks up? Someone will try to hammer you down.

So. As someone who was bullied tremendously as a child and even when I was a young adult, as someone who watches communities, both virtual and otherwise, and has seen the need of people who either are afraid of losing power or have so little power that they lash out at others in a vain attempt to feel big, I have to say you are standing two ridges away with music blaring in the background, and saying "there's no one chopping those trees down!" while the lumber industry hauls half the forest away.

Or in other words, bullying is alive and unfortunately flourishing. The targets are not often white straight middle-class males. No, it's the poor. It's the unwell. It's those who don't fit in, who are not heteronormative. Hell, I have four words that show bullying is alive and flourishing: hands up, don't shoot.

Rob H.

locumranch said...

Very amusing.

First, there is matthew's misplaced faith in a viable Nation of untested, entitled, de-clawed, flag-carrying and ungendered Kittens; and, second, there is David's refutation of the "zero sum enemy" concept (the implication being that there is such a thing as a 'positive sum enemy'); and, third, there is the unfounded future expectation of fun and great reward in the absence of effort, opposition or risk.

No doubt the Universe, being positive sum, will reward a new, improved & harmless humanity with a marvelous posthumous consolation prize.


Ioan said...


I haven't fully read all the comments. I realize that personal experience is an anecdote; it's not data. However, I would counter with my childhood. When I was in elementary school, I lived in San Jose. I was bullied a lot, in the traditional sense David describes. It only ended when my family moved to another state. Make of my experience what you will.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, experience is very important. It's part of the data set. Dr. Brin says "my boys weren't bullied and thus bullying is on a decline." I suppose it's a similar response to "my children got shots and now my child is autistic and it's all the vaccination's fault!" only on a more rose-colored-glass perspective. If multiple people reveal bullying and instances of bullying then it suggests the data pool Dr. Brin was working from was not sufficiently large.

Sample sizes, you know. ;)

Rob H.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Rob & Ioan,

One person's experience is one datum point, which by itself is an anecdote that is not necessarily generalizable. If every one of us posted a summary of our own experiences with bullying, we probably still would not have much of a sample size. On top of that, we would probably not be a very representative sample, either. It sounds like this blog has a preponderance of middle-aged (and up) Caucasian males from English-speaking countries. While I would be thrilled to hear that bullying is going down, I would be much happier to see more solid statistics.

As to the "adversity builds character" thing, bullying is hardly the only form of adversity. There are plenty of other sources of adversity out there, including adversity we make for ourselves by challenging our our abilities. I was run over by a car when I was 16. The doctors told me the limp would give me character, though I would have gladly traded "character" for less pain. Did this experience make me a better, stronger person? Without magical powers I would have know way of knowing. This is merely an assumption, and one that acts as cultural capital more in conservative communities. Adversity might make some people tough, but adversity can also make some people into slimy, conniving bastards, others into neurotic bundles of nerves and still others into cold, calculated killers.

David Brin said...

Robert, I dealt with the socio-economic matter in my posting. And yes there a big variances, but the decline in vicious violence is happening in every socioeconomic slot, in the US. Moreover, while we hear more about the LGBT suicides today, studies also show that the ACTUAL numbers have plummeted. In the past they were covered up.

Today they are public scandals calling for greater tolerance... which is happening at a dramatic pace. At my kids' high school, LGBT pairs strolled hand in hand. WTF do you want, perfection overnight?

Well, sure. We all want that. Be impatient! But also admit progress.

As for adversity... we tried! Boy scouts had them scrambling rock faces, rappelling, sailing, chopping brush to make trails, practicing 1st aid. Daughter spent a summer hauling ropes on a school sailing schooner and "bathing" in the Pacific Atlantic current. Karate wasn't brutal, but it was demanding. Should we have spent 6 months in a 3rd world village? Sure, in retrospect. I suppose. I guess. Clearly. But who knew?

We are calibrating. Their kids will probably have even tougher activities that are simultaneously even safer. Those are orthogonal axes.

The "free range" parents were wrong. Five years old is VERY different than eight. Cro Magnon would not have let a five year old wander and only an idiot would.

David Brin said...

Robert ALL the stats show bullying in decline. Why are you outraged to hear that there is less of the crime you suffered, going on? Why are you not filled with joy, upon hearing it?

It is uneven! FIGHT for the kids who are still suffering! But we no longer shrug it off You should rejoice over that.

locum's brief most-recent again, was SO fascinating. Even when the topic is "positive sume" he can merely say the words, showing agin not the slightest glimmer of understanding the meaning. Every sentence was couched in zero sum terms! Scroll up and look at it. I have never seen such a perfect example of substantial intelligence constrained by the memic equivalent of total color blindness, and anger that others speak of this thing called "color."

Paul is absolutely right. Cruel misfortune ("adversity") can turn some into great men and women... Elie Weisel came out of the death camps a genius, filled with poetical love. But for 98% it simply crushes the soul.

We have MORE empathy and decency and courage today, in a society filled with kids who never suffered (much).

Toughening challenges? Yeah. Short-term difficulty and skin-scraping temporary pain? Right on! Those things are at RIGHT ANGLES (orthogonal) to terrifying and damaging horror. The axes don't even overlap.

The first will make any child grow both deeper and stronger. As will empathy for those who cannot just walk away from a weekend of light pain.

Those who praise the latter are just fools and romantics, bordering on (or spilling into) sick mental illness.

Alex Tolley said...

Toughening challenges? Yeah. Short-term difficulty and skin-scraping temporary pain? Right on! Those things are at RIGHT ANGLES (orthogonal) to terrifying and damaging horror. The axes don't even overlap.

It is so important to differentiate challenges from adversity. We can make challenges as graduated learning experiences. Adversity is a much steeper problem to overcome. We know that despite the beliefs of many, that true adversity causes helplessness for most people, that only a few will overcome.

Whenever I hear about adversity building some indefinable character, I associate it with the meme that suffering is part of God's will and plan - so accept it.

Alex Tolley said...

While there is data on bullying in schools, I have been unable to locate time series data showing a decline in incidence.

Sexual harassment is a related problem that shows a rise over time (awareness?), but peaked in response to the employer costs of settling cases.

Alex Tolley said...

PREV TOPIC. Reliability of gene editing in humans.

Getting there, but not good enough yet.

Jumper said...

Thanks to Alex I found
a good important concept.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, far too many statistics have been padded to serve the views of specific people. Case in point: Fox News and Karl Rove who tried to disillusion people into not voting because Romney had it in the bag, in which we saw Rove break down on television. Except I don't think he broke down because his statistics were wrong. I think he broke down because his plan didn't work. The "Sheeple" went out and voted anyway despite being told "Obama will lose" (with the subtext of "don't bother to vote because you'll just waste your vote").

We're seeing a similar action right now by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton. Clinton will win the Presidency. There is no point in voting Republican because nothing can stop Hillary, to the point she is doing a low-key political campaign so not to appear with hubris so she ends up turning her own side off.

Hillary does not ignite the same passions in young voters that Obama did. She knows that. She needs another edge. Causing Republicans to give up because their candidates are lackluster is about her only chance, especially if Rand Paul gets on the ballot (I suspect we'll see Jeb Bush end up with the Republican ticket using a similar mechanic Romney used last year - slow and steady while all his competitors peak and fall apart, while Rand Paul is ignored by the non-Internet media because he's too libertarian... though he also sees that weakness and is currently shedding a lot of his libertarian aspects to attract mainstream social conservative Republican support).

Statistics with bullying do not show it's going down. Instead, we are slowly seeing increasing awareness of far too many educators and schools turning a blind eye to it because "children will be children" and "it's the victim's fault for being a target."

Which actually raises another point: feminists complain about rape culture. I think they are wrong about rape culture. I think it's instead a culture of blaming the victim. A robbery happens? The victim looked too rich. You were mugged? You wore too flashy of clothes. You suffer depression? You are weak. You are bullied? Well you attracted the bullying and should just stand up for yourself. (That doesn't work, btw.)

Rob H.

Howard Brazee said...

I hate the fact that our rulers take away our liberty by pushing cowardice.

And I dislike giving up my privacy.

But, I am willing to give up my privacy as the cost of our rulers giving up their privacy. Secrecy is used to keep us from finding out what they are doing to us. But we should be their bosses. We need to know what they are doing and who they are working for.

locumranch said...

As the term 'enemy' presupposes one who is "hostile, intends harm or opposes a policy, cause, person, or group", the 'positive sum ENEMY' construct is both oxymoronic & patently absurd IF we define 'positive sum' in terms of "mutually beneficial outcome".

However, there are those (like David & myself) who define 'competitive OPPOSITION' in positive sum terms, presupposing that ANY conflict, opposition, adversity or ENEMY has the potential to increase strength, improve competitiveness or 'build character'.

Of course, this sort of 'positive sum' presumption REQUIRES at least a modicum of 'Survivorship Bias' (in the 'what doesn't destroy one makes one stronger' sense) and leads one to conclude that adversity of any type, including BULLYING, may represent a mutually beneficial positive sum opportunity, which would be ABSURD because we all just KNOW that bullying (any type) is socially unacceptable and therefore EVIL.


Tacitus said...

I would be circumspect with regards to any statistics on bullying. Yes it happens. Yes it always has. Yes it always will.

But is what we are now defining as bullying the same thing as it was when I was a lad? Will it be defined the same way in another decade or two?

You don't want to go the full Nietzche on your kids....because really not everything that does not kill them makes them stronger. But you do have an obligation to toughen them up a bit because when they get out into the real world they will need it.

Physicians kids get a bit of this every time they have a minor illness or helicopter (or would it be medivac) parenting with us. After a while they caught on and would say "Tis only a Scratch....I've had worse!"


Alex Tolley said...

@locum - I do not see how you can come to a statement that bullying ls a mutually beneficial positive sum opportunity.

The negative effects of bullying are widely studied and the victim will not benefit. As most bullying in the west is done in school, this impacts the education of the victim and t5heir long term earning potential, let alone any other less definable psychological impacts.

Another way to look at this is that bullying incurs a cost to the victim, if only in using resources to avoid being bullied. These resources would be better spent doing +ve things instead.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I apologize for missing your previously stated conditions for relinquishing unions. I’ll look out for them as I re-read what you wrote before.

Regarding Franklin I tend to agree with him. Leeches earn their punishment. The problem some of us have is we don’t want to be leeches and we don’t want particular services. There must be a high hurdle for society to force services upon us and then demand we pay our ‘Club’.

Regarding collusion between unions and management, my concern is that unions effectively become part of management but with additional private law allowing the combined company to do things that aren’t legal for other companies to do. Closed shops are my primary concern.

Acacia H. said...

Back when I was a kid, bullying happened and was both physical and verbal. I was thrown down hills onto rocks, had people try to throw me into ponds, and drag me out of a classroom to try and flush my head in a toilet (the classroom teacher just laughed, as it was before class started, while another teacher intervened). That said, if bullying resulted in suicide, that was brushed under the rug because suicide was something Not Talked About.

We're now hearing about the suicides. So really, it's difficult to determine if bullying is up or down and if we're only now hearing about the suicides, and if it's the increased connectivity of the world that lets those suicides get heard about.

My suspicion? Bullying continues as it has for some time. People being bullied are those who are isolated and considered vulnerable. And back in my childhood, bullying probably resulted in suicides but that information was hushed up. I do not think bullying has declined despite Dr. Brin's rosie-eyed view on the subject. Indeed, now we know bullying continues past childhood and into the workplace and society as a whole.

Rob H.

matthew said...

Here's an article on the long-term health effects from bullying.

Interesting because not only does it show a measurable negative difference in health among the bullied, but also a positive effect for being the bully. The authors believe that the net positive health effects for bullies are a result of increased social status.

So, that's what treebeard is up to: improving his health outcome at the cost to his victims. Sociopath. Like a poisonous spider you go out of your way to stomp upon.

And locum, I and my pack of Enlightened Kittens laugh at your characterizations of positivity and poke fun at your absolute hatred of the concept of improvement; no doubt gaining ourselves some misbegotten negative sum health benefits too.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Regarding your seagull role, you remind me of a brief but useful interaction I had with a hired consultant early in my IT career. Management hired an outside team to recommend process changes within our IT shop. One of the guys who did the grunt work for that team let me in on their secret. They walked around talking to the people at the lowest level (guys like me) and asked us what we thought should be done. After aggregating that information and digesting it, they produced reports for management that had a different patina on them. Because they appeared to come from outside, they were more palatable. Some got adopted.

I have no doubt real productivity gain comes from below. Management teams who don’t understand this are foolish. I also have no doubt that many proposed gains would undermine a business absent the leadership skills of Management. Worker bees who don’t understand this are foolish. The corporation itself has to be a collaboration of those skills if it is to prosper. Though many lose their way after they grow past a certain size (as Coase described), there are others ready to take that ground when the first tree falls over.

A disconnect between the productivity gain from below and their wages is no more unfair than not recognizing the role management plays in tactical coordination and strategic guidance. No matter your status, you must be prepared to bargain for the wage you think your productivity brings to the corporation. If management doesn’t want to reward you for the value you bring, don’t work for them. Go… somewhere… else. Set up the next tree to replace the first one when it falls over. Compete… don’t… coerce.

From a market point of view it IS stupid not to reward value. As a shareholder, I would have a cow if I knew the corporation I partially owned behaved so stupidly as not to reward value. Bad governance leads to this error and Director’s heads should roll. However, that doesn’t mean I want to connect wage to productivity. Companies compete in large markets where labor is a purchased commodity. I’m much more inclined to reward improved value through stock grants. When the employees ARE the owners, you get a different relationship.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex and Larry: Okay. I can hear the resentment. My wife feels much the same way, so don’t think I haven’t already had my ideas tested by fire. 8)

Reading the same stock advice rewards the people who move fastest obviously. Stretching that to form an analogy for selling your labor hours is problematic, though. The better analogy is to realize the connection between competing companies and competing labor providers. You are already an employer in a single person company and every time you walk into an interview you are making a sales pitch for your product. The reason I argue we ALL can switch from employee to employer is because we are free to end our contracts with other employers and establish new ones elsewhere OR grow the little companies we already run to become the employer.

I don’t accept the self-imposed slavery suggested by those who argue this can’t be done. Fashion your own cages and live in them if you like, but I won’t recognize them as valid structures around which we should organize our markets and market rules. If I do so I would give tacit approval to the bullies who would take advantage of you. I might not be able to save someone from their own mental errors, but I can at a minimum avoid supporting the monsters that prey upon them.

matthew said...

Here is Salon doing a very nice, statistics-based demolition of the Republican / Libertarian style of economic policy. Lots of links, lots of real content about the Red State / Blue State economic divide. Ignore the headline, the meat of the article is on economics, not Presidential politicking.

Jumper said...

If I had 10 part-time jobs I could start firing the bosses who were the worst foul-ups... we have some ways to go before we have that freedom. Most people with a job have exactly one customer, and he's a real jerk sometimes.

Alfred Differ said...

In the spirit of offering anecdotes…

I have a lump on the inside of my lower lip where a HS bully hit me and almost split it on my lower teeth. No external scar, but the internal one is large enough I can accidentally bite it. The scar has proven useful over the years as a reminder that I have to be smart enough to anticipate the social consequences of my actions and predict when someone will surrender civility.

When my son was diagnosed with autism I went through some dark times imagining the Hell he was going to face in school. I recalled what we did to kids who didn’t fit and the pecking order that emerged turning kids who got bullied by those above them into bullies of those below them. I spent some time preparing myself emotionally, but as my son grew up I found my preparation was mostly wasted. What I feared did not materialize. He is 16 now, so there is always a chance it will happen soon, but I’m now more worried about him learning to be a bully because of the great care people take around him. They know he doesn’t have the social skills the other kids have and they flex to accommodate him. Hell hasn’t claimed him.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - measuring value and acting on it is hard. Usually this is done by policies like pay scales for most workers, and negotiation for managers.

However, as financial markets are rather low granularity, what they reward is the bottom line, which incentivizes managers to minimize costs, especially labor. As we have been seeing over the last 40 years, this has disconnected productivity and wage levels, and is resulting in the abusive employment practices of very competitive firms. Given McDonalds' labor policies, I cannot be happier that they are finding themselves in difficulties. You may also have read that the EU is going to ban fish imports from Thailand because of the use of slave labor on fishing boats. Punishment for unfair labor practices should be encouraged to change behaviors. This is one area where transparency is an unequivocal good IMO. We just need better ways to reduce the cognitive load so that a wide spectrum of products can be selected for good labor practices (or other good TWODA behaviors).

Jumper said...

I'd note a difference between psychological bullying and physical bullying. In military basic training there's a lot of psychological bullying; they've retained that and tried to eliminate much of the physical kind, at least officially. That's probably good.
It's probably desirable to encourage kids to develop strong defenses against psychological attacks. It's probably pointless to attempt to get kids to "get past" physical attacks.
I'm unsure to the extent psychological attacks should be seen as "training" or even how much innate defenses against it can be "taught."

Alfred Differ said...

@jumper: That's the point of remaining the CEO of your own little bit of fiction. You are supposed to develop the social network you need in advance of needing it. The visual mnemonic for us oldsters is the rolodex, but the FB generation will think of it as their social graph.

If you can't fire your boss right now, you should be building that graph even if you don't intend to use it in the near future. Anyone who has been laid off or fired should learn that lesson after being burned only once.

Jumper said...

I've been on both sides, owning my own business for a while. It's a wonderful feeling to fire a customer. Slightly impacts the bottom line, but oh, what a relief it was. And how nice to have the ability to do it.

David Brin said...

Robert, you insult my sons. They had their eyes open for any and all signs of bullying and were primed to protect the victims. And well prepared with many skills e.g. karate. But there were ZERO signs of the incessant violent attacks I experienced as a boy. Zee-roh.

Boy Scouts were rough, when I was a kid. For my sons? Our troop had some verbal jibes, but zeee-roh% of the nastiness I took for granted as normal.

I travel a lot and I have asked about this. Everywhere, folks say it is “socio-economic selection.” Yet they report the same decline, with some offset levels in poorer areas.

Here’s a question, Robert. You clearly feel intensely about this. Why not volunteer at a local school or troop and see for yourself?

Better yet, ask yourself why it angers you so, to even imagine that the torment of your youth may have declined?

May I ask how you’ll react if the trend continues?

David Brin said...

Robert I would love to see you show us serious folks suggesting that “victims bring it on themselves.”

Instead, what we have is zillions and zillions of activists ACCUSING others of saying that. All the noise and fury is coming from those who want to solve the problem… and that’s fine. But to base their propulsive force on the hallucination that much progress has not already happened…?

That is the left’s sickness. Its delusional version of the right wing’s political/polemic mania. The left may be right in its overall goals for us. But its intense rejection of FACTS is no less sick than the right’s.

It is so cute to see locum try to craft sentences around the words “positive sum”… and every single sentence proves that he has not a clue what it means. Like some deep sea creature describing sunset on Titan.

Alex Tolley said...

I travel a lot and I have asked about this. Everywhere, folks say it is “socio-economic selection.” Yet they report the same decline, with some offset levels in poorer areas.

This is anecdotal evidence. You need to show statistical declines across the population over time. Because your socio-economic group may be seeing declines, does not mean it reflects the wider population, and may be selection bias. It is rather like claiming that the economy is doing better because your social group is doing well, even as we know this is not true of the total population.

One might hope there are declines, but the statistics of current school bullying are appallingly high. How much higher could it have been in the bad old days?

Acacia H. said...

Doctor Brin, I was a substitute teacher around ten years ago. Bullying was alive and flourishing at that point. I honestly seriously doubt it has undergone a massive decline since that time. And my intense feelings about bullying is one of the factors why I thank my lucky stars that I found a different career than teacher.

There are multiple factors that can lead to bullying. One is abused children who inflict abuse in turn on their victims. A second is peer pressure - if you don't pick on the "ugly kid" or "the kid who dresses funny" or "the nerd" or "the target" (the last being someone who is otherwise innocuous but somehow ends up being targeted anyway).

Bullying is not all beating a kid up until they are bloodied on the ground. It is also telling them they are "a faggot" or "a piece of shit" or any other method of disempowering the child. It's knocking the kid's books out of his or her hands. It's telling a girl she's ugly or calling her a slut or spreading malicious rumors about him or her. It is alienating these individuals, leaving them isolated and alone.

It is the football team raping a girl and the entire town turning on the girl and blaming her, not their star athletes who couldn't do a single thing wrong.

It is ambushing someone after school and attacking them when there are no witnesses.

It is tying them to the back of your truck and going for a drive until they die, just because the attackers think their target is gay.

It's poisoning their cat or dog.

It's stealing their belongings.

And it's society saying "that's not bullying" and "bullying is on a decline" and "well, it builds character!" and "I went through worse."

Rob H.

David Brin said...

How much higher could it have been in the bad old days?

Are... you... freaking... kidding me? It was relentless, and everywhere and taken completely for granted as a fact of life and "boys will be boys."

Oh, and the girls were worse.

Acacia H. said...

Lost my train of thought in the second paragraph. Basically, if you refuse to pick on the target of bullying? You end up a target as well. You get shunned and put in the same category as the socially isolated. And when this happens to several people, the rest learn real quick and just pick on the targets. Hell, Stephen King demonstrated this in the book "Carrie" decades ago. And you know the saying: the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Alex Tolley said...

Are... you... freaking... kidding me? It was relentless, and everywhere and taken completely for granted as a fact of life and "boys will be boys."

That isn't evidence, just opinion. Are you seriously claiming this applies to all our experiences? Reference data please.

Jumper said...

My anecdote is I was small, grade A student, not very good at sports, but never had a big problem with bullies, although I got beat up once or twice ( can't even remember about a second time).
This was a Chicago suburb in the '60s. I must have been lucky or something. I was a fair "talker" but nothing special.

Acacia H. said...

To quote Wikipedia, Dr. Brin, Citation Required. ;)

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

t is so important to differentiate challenges from adversity.
Whenever I hear about adversity building some indefinable character, I associate it with the meme that suffering is part of God's will and plan - so accept it

For the record, then: When I was agreeing with the point that a certain level of challenge was good for character-building (the same way that some exposure to disease germs is good for building the immune system), I might have used the word "adversity" when you would prefer "challenge". If so, we're really only arguning semantics. I think we're in agreement on the issue.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

@Alex and Larry: Okay. I can hear the resentment.

I'm not resentful, and in fact, I always relish your posts.

Just feel the need to point out that some benefits have costs, and vice versa. I'd say I've caught the "contrarian" bug from our host, except that I always was that way.

Jumper said...

The rest of my anecdote is I was bullied by an older brother at a steady background rate. Physical. We emerged friends by the time I was around 10 or 11, but it must have had some effect as I found myself being a bully twice as a teen, and didn't call it that at the time though I am a bit mortified to recall it.

Googling "statistics on bullying" without the quotes gave me several sites, such as this:

" Nearly 1 in 3 students (27.8%) report being bullied during the school year (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013).
19.6% of high school students in the US report being bullied at school in the past year. 14.8% reported being bullied online (Center for Disease Control, 2014).
64 percent of children who were bullied did not report it; only 36 percent reported the bullying (Petrosina, Guckenburg, DeVoe, and Hanson, 2010).
More than half of bullying situations (57 percent) stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied (Hawkins, Pepler, and Craig, 2001).
School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25% (McCallion and Feder, 2013).
The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students were looks (55%), body shape (37%), and race (16%) (Davis and Nixon, 2010)."

Paragraph 4 is of interest.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re Bullying

From my own experience I incline to Dr Brin's feeling that it's diminishing
BUT it's nearly impossible to get any sensible statistical information because it's such a subjective thing

In Pinker's book one of the first things he does is specify that he is looking at death because "violence" has changed so much

The UK has a much lower murder rate than the US - but a higher "violent crime" rate
Probably because a US "Misdemeanor" is a UK "Violent crime"

Bullying is such a subjective act - I believe that we have moved the threshold down quite a lot over the decades

I am not denying the need for management supervision of the improvement process
And I have been slated because of my belief that a team needs a leader
But management DOES get recognized and paid for improvements
(Most of the pay goes to those who had least input)

I relate to your experiences with consultants - I have had similar

BUT in some ways it reinforces my point

You (as an engineer) could NOT negotiate the improvements you knew were necessary

You did not have access to (and credibility with)the senior managers

If you did not have access to the senior managers how did you "negotiate" your pay??

Pay negotiations at large companies are in the hands of the HR - who have no real power or knowledge

How much worse is it for the shop floor guys
They have no access to senior management - so how can they negotiate their pay??

As an engineer you had difficulty getting a hearing to improve the companies performance

How much more difficult is it for them to negotiate?

And without that negotiation how can a market work??

David Brin said...


David Brin said...

Jesus what town does Robert live in? Get out of it and join the rest of us in century 21.

David Brin said...


Acacia H. said...

It is comments like that, belittling people who disagree with you, that I warned you about earlier, Dr. Brin. You know I'm not a troll. You know I'm willing to listen to reason. Hell, you convinced me to reexamine my views concerning the Clintons. And yet you dismiss my comments as "outdated thinking" and the like?

Indulging in this behavior is no better than what the worse of your critics on here do. What is more, you are indulging in the same addiction to outrage that you warned about in "Existence" but, hey, that sort of addiction can't happen to you, you're the one who warned about it, right? Uh huh.

You're no different than Fox News and their ilk in dismissing the views of those who believe differently than you. I truly hope that when it comes to science, you're not nearly as hidebound. But given the historical resistance of scientists to concepts such as plate tectonics, evolution, and the like, such hopes are probably ill-founded.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

I think this little video proves the point. It is now possible for a complete layman, with very little experience in remote flight, to purchase a fairly advanced drone that transmits a live video feed, and corrects for most minor mistakes in flight stability.
For instance:

Or, if you wish an example of a very fast advanced civilian drone, that transmits live video, this:

siska said...
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