Monday, July 20, 2015

The crowning of Hillary? And the Pope Francis Effect

==  A premature coronation? ==

The pre-ordination or crowning of Hillary Clinton as the presumed Democratic Party nominee in 2016 was deeply premature.  Even if she winds up with the nomination, why would democrats forego the drama and press coverage of a contested series of primaries and debates? Hundreds of well-vamped and amped opportunities to put forward their shared -- or somewhat varying -- messages – what? Are they really so stupid they would bypass that? 

Even if Clinton were inevitable, the DP’s brightest should step up to tear some spotlight away from the GOP’s astonishing gremlin-frenzy, if only to contrast favorably against the giant rugby scrum of seventeen fanatics racing each other over right-wing cliffs of insanity.

 Hence I was interested to read this argument that the dems ought to take another look at Al Gore. Wow.

Oh, without any doubt, it would be a stronger America today, had cheating not robbed us of the legitimately-elected Gore Presidency, in 2000.  You cannot name a single metric of U.S. national health that did not plummet across the misbegotten reign of either/both Bushes -- one of them the worst president of the 20th Century and the other (I hope will turn out by 2100 to have been) the worst of the 21st. Even a tepid Gore span would have been brilliant, by comparison.  

(Please, please just accept the challenge and offer up one, even one, unambiguous statistical national health metric that attributably improved across either of the last two GOP-held presidencies. One. No? In which case, why should the Republican Party ever again be trusted with a burnt match?)

In fact, though, I do not yearn for Al.  He proved the adage that Democratic Presidents choose, as running mates, people who are qualified for the job, but uninspiring. From LBJ and Humphrey and Mondale to Gore and Lieberman and Biden, this trend is almost perfect. Of course, it is far better than the GOP's alternative fetish – wherein Republican nominees always appoint unqualified fools or horrors to be their Vice Presidential running mates. 

All right, there was one exception to that pattern – Ronald Reagan picked a VP who on-paper was eminently qualified, but who -- lest I reiterate -- ironically went on to become the worst president of the last 100 years. Even worse than his awful son. 

But no. A guy like Al Gore is not what we need right now.

What we do need is someone who can stand up next to Hillary, during debates, and rock the boat!  Alas, while Bernie Sanders sort of qualifies, the stuff he is saying is pretty standard on the left wing of the party. And no, I am not talking about Elizabeth Warren, though she might gain administrative experience for one term as Vice President or a cabinet secretary. No, neither she nor Bernie rock the boat the way I want -- by shattering the narrative.

Okay, since I started writing this missive there have been a couple more DP entries, Jim Webb from Virginia, for one, who represents the Blue Dog wing of the Party, a wing that should be nurtured! There are millions of Americans who are genuinely and sincerely somewhat-conservative by temperament, but who also know the Republican Party has gone  completely insane. They'll need reassurance that the other tent is big enough for them, and that it welcomes a diversity of (sane) views. Democrats who reject a sane Blue Dog out of hand are pure fools. Sane vs insane is vastly more important than "centrist versus slightly-left-of-centrist."

 One quirk that I might be the first to mention. A major NASA project might have to be re-named, if Jim Webb does become president.

Lincoln Chafee and Martin O'Malley have also declared in the Democratic race, and I am willing to look. And now there is renewed talk of Joe Biden. Already the five DPs are more varied than the seventeen GOP fellahs, all of whom get 90% of their talking points from Roger Ailes.  (Though yes, Trump does entertain.)

Still, I am unsatisfied.  We need stronger drink. Maybe not for the nominee, but certainly earlier, during the debates and media discussions leading up to that decision!

No, I mean someone who would take the discussion off at vertical angles to the hoary, lobotomizing so-called “left right political axis!” Someone with solid administrative credentials and popularity and sanity and purpose – but who is bored with all the standard clichés, that are so expertly manipulated by Fox News.

I am talking about Jerry Brown.  

Okay, he’s old and would likely serve just one term. (Dig it, Warren fans?) But he is a masterful politician, hugely successful and popular in the U.S. state that outproduces all but maybe seven nations on the planet and is the source of half our world’s innovative drive. 

Moreover, California is the one place where Obamacare (formerly RomneyCare and HeritageCare and the GOP plan for ten years) has been executed absolutely flawlessly, delivering on every promise and defying every doomcast.

And Jerry despises clichés! They bore him. He would take any and every Fox-Ailesheimers talking point and shred it, just for fun.  He would do what Hillary has proved incapable of ever doing –

-- he’d refuse to play Rupert Murdoch’s game. And hence, even if Hillary winds up being the nominee, she would sally forth from the convention across a landscape where every old-saw and hoary assumption has been up-ended. 

Will Jerry run? Alas, I doubt it. But oh, the fun we'd have! Heck he could even declare that he's doing it "for fun!"

... which brings up a weird hypothesis about Jon Stewart's suspicious timing. But save that for another (fun) occasion.

== Who would be the GOP’s “Jerry”? ==

Where to find one for the other side? A republican who hates clichés and gets bored by standard positions and who would laugh at attempts to discipline him to the Murdoch-Adelson-Ailes-Saudi-Koch party line? Okay, okay... I guess that sort of describes Donald Trump.  But let's also add "somewhat good person" and "sane" shall we? (Note: all I ask is "somewhat"!)

Let’s see… is there one state in the U.S. that routinely produces such characters? Did I mention those mould-breakers Reagan and Brown? Well, sure.

Arnold Schwarznegger has uttered the words that so many of you ought to be saying, by now.

”As a Republican, I’m furious.”

The “Terminator” star and former California governor on April 3 blasted Indiana’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many believe to be a thinly veiled attempt to excuse discrimination against gays and other minorities.  But our former “guvernator” went on to blast members of his party who “choose the politics of division.

Oh, how I would love to see him take the stage, in coming GOP presidential nomination debates, and say that “emperor” Rupert Murdoch has no clothes! That the party of Goldwater and Buckley has been hijacked down paths of sheer insanity.  And that it is time for decent conservatives to save American conservatism, by getting mad at the hijackers.  

And no, I don't care whether he's "native-born." Remember, I am talking about the next 11 months of theater before the conventions.  That is when the actual national dialogue takes place. And boy do we need to shake up that dialogue!

Oh, but then there’s this... California trounces Texas, other states in job creation. And in almost every other category. Heck even if the official nominees are (sigh) "Bush versus Clinton,"*** we could still demand a special California debate.

 Jerry Brown vs Ah-nold in 2016!  

== Did Heinlein exaggerate with “Nehemia Scudder? ==

Via David Ronfeldt: It's evidently from an odd book by Norman Cohn, the expert on millenarianism famed for his book "The Pursuit of the Millennium". The quote may fit a discussion about some current U. S. political trends, though it was originally written for a different audience.

"It is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history."   --From Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Oxford University Press, 1970, p.14). From the posting Fatal Attraction.

Radicals are starting to simmer, and the fellows who are pulling the latest oligarchic putsch need to understand where it might all lead.  Those of us pushing for a normal, rhythmic moderate-pragmatic “reset” of the flat-open-fair social contract envision something like what Americans have done in most generations, including the two Rooseveltean flattenings… preventing the routine efforts to rebuild feudal pyramids of privilege that ruined 99% of societies, and keeping our flattened-diamond experiment going for another generation.

But read here, how others have already given up. The putsch has already gone too far, they claim!  Elias Isquith interviews Chris Hedges: We have, to quote John Ralston Saul, “undergone a corporate coup d’état in slow motion” and it’s over. The normal mechanisms by which we carry out incremental and piecemeal reform through liberal institutions no longer function. They have been seized by corporate power — including the press. That sets the stage for inevitable blowback, because these corporations have no internal constraints, and now they have no external constraints. So they will exploit, because, as Marx understood, that’s their nature, until exhaustion or collapse.” 

Is this right?  No, not yet.  There are far too many positive trends, especially since 2013 was the best year for U.S. civil liberties in two decades or more. Something the far-left and the entire right – both of them allergic to optimism – will never admit.

Still, heed the sounds of pitchforks being sharpened and tumbrels being oiled. The Roosevelts were moderate–pragmatic alternatives to Trotsky, to Hitler, to Stalin, or Bakunin.  As I portray in Existence… any new feudal caste had better try lots harder to be actually smart, instead of delusional (like every other feudal caste, across all of time). Or else they should picture a Billion Bakunins, many millions of them armed not with pitchforks, but genetically engineered bugs. Then, envision them getting jobs serving drinks at high class resorts.

Negotiate with us. The enlightenment made you rich. Try showing it some loyalty.

 == The Pope Effect ==

Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory real..“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said. 

Further -- in words likely to anger some of his conservative critics, the pope backs the science of climate change, saying "plenty of scientific studies point out that the last decades of global warming have been mostly caused by the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) especially generated by human action" 

Yep… one more gol-durned "elite" trying' to use reality to bully the plantation -- er oligarch -- er, Fox -- er, "job creator" (yeah, that's it) lords.  Down with every elite who's not a confederate plantation lord!  You listening, God?  

Okay, okay, this fellow seems to be on his way to becoming the most reasonable and insightful and most humane pope any of us have seen.  Still, and while the messages have mostly been positive, so far, I have my limits. For example, when Pope Francis denounced what he calls the “great powers” of the world for failing to act when there was intelligence indicating Jews, Christians,homosexuals and others were being transported to death camps in Europe during World War II.”  

While I agree with the actual statement, I find it hard to swallow coming from the Vatican, whose behavior during that same time was utterly accommodating to evil forces committing those crimes.

See this simple dissection of why certain religious dogmas are absolutely tantamount to treason.

Oh, but finally then there's this...

As we speak, Republicans are pushing hard to retract all accountability measures from their own No Child Left Behind reform of U.S. education. 

Now why would they do that? I thought the whole purpose of NCLB was to use testing and comparable metrics to find out where schools are failing so that attention can be focused on them... so that no child would be left behind! 

Remember when testing and accountability were the conservative catch words?

But oh... okay. It turns out the GOP is running as fast as they can to cancel all real measuring and accountability -- for one simple reason. The accountability testing under No Child Left Behind was blatantly showing that Red States are failing. They are falling more and more behind blue states and getting worse. 

So... shall we re-evaluate processes and try to do better? What... no? Um, did I mention these are republicans? Perception is all that matters! The solution is "don't you dare look at us! Especially if we're failing!"

Oh, boy. The next year will be "fun."  Come on Jerry and Arnold ... and Jon... take off those quotation marks.


*** I am still looking for a bold urban guerrilla theater ensemble to look at my script for a very easy political video. One that would be hilarious, pointed and devastating... regarding the problem of political "dynasties." Hey, don't get me wrong. Given any choice between a Bush and a Clinton (and their respective armies of factotums), it's a no-brainer. Another Bush could kill us all. And I got no beef against Hill. Except that we would never know a moment without shrill (even if unearned) rancor. This nominee cannot sooth Phase Eight of our Civil War, no matter how hard she wants to, or tries.

Still... do I have a bit of satire that could at-minimum make you all laugh and cry? Sigh.



Steve O said...

Hey Dr. Brin,

NCLB has some very serious flows with even basic logic. I worked a little with it doing some analysis. The performance criteria make no sense, especially when applied to disaggregated groups.

So, while there may be some of what you say, the states could always choose the metric they are measured by for purposes of NCLB, and if they were worried about lower "grades" Texas, say, could with some expense create some bogus Texas Assessment Test or whatever. I think the effort to change NCLB is more about a long-running bipartisan recognition that the whole premise is pretty flawed. Also note the big differences in how the GOP-House vs. the GOP-Senate would approach changing it.

Now the reason the GOP now gets all frothing-at-the-mouth about "Common Core" I believe is *indeed* what you say - a uniform yardstick to measure actual performance that could make them look bad. (Agree with CC or not...) Conservatives used to love CC (and some still do, and now look at 'em...

Steve O said...

Oh, and Jerry Brown for Pres - a guy who inherited the fiscal situation he did and turned it around (using Democratic principles) like no one thought possible? Love it!

Jonathan S. said...

I think Robin Williams may have been right about the reasoning behind the Republican VP selection process. A potential assassin raises his rifle to his shoulder, takes careful aim at the head of Pres. George H. W. Bush, and just as he's about to squeeze the trigger, one phrase runs through his mind - "President Quayle". And he drops the weapon in despair.

Alex Tolley said...

I like Jerry Brown too, although I don't see him: "take the discussion off at vertical angles to the hoary, lobotomizing so-called “left right political axis!" IMO, he is much more in the mold of "third way" thinking. While he has gained a lot of experience, he had a shot for the '92 election, but stepped down in favor of Clinton.
Despite your dismissal, Sanders' populist message is drawing huge crowds to his rallies so therefore indicating that his message is being welcomed by at least a segment of the population. He is even drawing large crowds even in Texas. And all financed by small contributions as desired by Lessig.

Metric of US national health that improved under GW Bush:

Absolute GDP per capita. Miserably poor to be sure, but higher than when he came to office. ;)

Louis Shalako said...

He who enters last, laughs best. Especially since they probably can't win anyway. But there's always next time.

David Brin said...

When the metric of health demands some growth just to stay even, you may not use it as an "improvement" when that metric rises less than necessary. A child needs to grow a lot around age 12. If she's stunted and grows a milimeter, THAT is a positive?

Sanders is free to make his pitch. I want to take no chances. As nominee, he would firm up the opposing monstrous coalition. It has to be shattered. And I'll take a Blue Dog like Webb, to do that. Both of them would appoint sane/moderate progressives to the Supreme Court and that is just about the only thing that matters. If Citizens United and gerrymandering fall, then we'll be safe.

ANY democrat will fund science and listen to scientists. Well... any democrat within reach of the nomination. I know some lefty monsters. But this is not their time to scare me.

Jumper said...

Franken '16

Tony Fisk said...

Way too early to anoint Hilary: a bit of healthy competition at this stage will do her (and any other contender) a power of good.

Further -- in words likely to anger some of his conservative critics, the pope backs the science of climate change...

Cardinal George Pell has already denounced the encyclical, saying the Vatican has 'no particular expertise in scientific matters'. (Incidentally shutting out the Jesuits)

I am waiting for Tony (wah!) Abbott to come out and excommunicate Francis for being the Emissary of diabolical Warmism, and then inviting Pell back to install him as the Antipode.

And lo, coal and oil were the new body and blood of Christ. And the Abbott saw that it was good for Humanity, even though the congregation found the wine and wafers less to their liking than of yore.

From which rant you can gather that the 'conservative complaint' isn't limited to the US

AcidDC said...

Did you accidentally not post the part where you say WHY Brown is such a good candidate? What has he said or done that's so impressed you?

David Brin said...

What has Brown NOT done right? There are no metrics having causal relation ship with government that have not improved under Brown. State finances are rock solid, the rainy day fund is building, universities recovering, crime dropping... and rancorous partisanship is probably the lowest it is anywhere in the nation. Hell, the republicans in the assembly are mostly sane and willing to negotiate!

Tony, cool slip antipope... antipode....

Jonathan S. said...

Cardinal George Pell has already denounced the encyclical, saying the Vatican has 'no particular expertise in scientific matters'. (Incidentally shutting out the Jesuits)"

I seem to recall mention of the current Pope having done Masters-level work in organic chem before entering the priesthood. What are Pell's credentials on the matter?

Tony Fisk said...

What are Pell's credentials on the matter?

He does God swill?

Seriously, he is a repellant individual.

Tony Fisk said...

cool slip antipope... antipode....

Thanks, David. I have been refining that one.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - if GDP per capita is growing, what is stunted about that? That is real growth per person. Piketty has suggested that this level of growth is going to be the norm in the 21st century. Larry Summers calls this low growth scenario the "Great Stagnation". Your analogy to child growth doesn't really map to this metric, although I wonder if you are thinking about growth needed to rapidly reduce unemployment, a very different requirement and, of course, is goalpost shifting.

Other metrics that are positive if your ideology steers that way included reduced tax burden. The proxy here is tax freedom day which declined under GW. And let's not forget estate taxes were reduced (practically only for the wealthy). After all, Robin Hood was fighting taxes instituted by Prince/King John, and we all agree Hood was a hero, don't we? ;)

Anonymous said...

2 questions: by what metric was Bush Sr worse than Dubya and why is no one talking about Bernie Sanders? He's catching up to Hillary fast and has a lot more genuine popular support imho.

Acacia H. said...

The cause behind the loss of the SpaceX rocket was tracked to a certified part that failed at 1/5th of the stress it was supposed to handle.

While SpaceX will continue to examine the data to determine other possible causes, it appears they found the "smoking gun" - and will doublecheck materials they acquire for their rockets even if they are certified. Better safe than sorry after all.

And while a small voice in the back of my head goes "you know, there are powers that be that would love for SpaceX to fail... why not "let" a defective part get certified and hope it sneaks through and causes a problem..." in all likelihood it was bad luck. Things happen, after all. Not everything has to be a conspiracy. In fact, most things aren't. ;)

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Steve O., another major reason for the Repugnant Party is against Common Core is its focus on critical thinking. They really don't want the voting public trained to think, because if they did, that would preclude blind obedience/bobbleheading - what the Party is so famous for.

Dr. Brin, near the end of the July 10 thread you wrote:

Paul SB I appreciate your thoughtful and well-spoken reply... my mother taught in inner city schools in LA for 30 years. I heard plenty. Nevertheless, you offer no suggestions. I tried to spread the authority among five diverse sets of stakeholders, in order to cancel out impulsive bias. If you have a better way to weed out the bums, I would like to hear it... though under a future blog.

Okay, but I was not really offering a specific suggestion at that time. I was only saying that the anonymous commentator had a point that, as an insider, I could see. That only means that your idea, which is frogpiles better than anything our political caste has cooked up, will need some well-designed ground rules. When a game designer comes up with some new idea, it doesn't get Milton Bradley slapped on it and millions of copies printed right away. They play-test it first. Getting comments like this is somewhat akin to that play-testing.

However, I did come up with an idea while driving my son to the library today. Most teachers in a school have some idea if there are any particularly bad apples in the barrel, not because they ever get a chance to see each other in action, but because they talk to the kids, or at least hear the kids talking, as well as catching scuttlebutt from other sources like TAs. Teachers can't do anything because all hiring & firing decisions are in the hands of Administration. What if there were a recall process similar to recalling governors in some states? It would have to be carefully planned to prevent it from becoming a scapegoating mechanism, but I can be quite sure that many teachers would be eager to be able to vote some of those bad apples off the island, as it were. It probably should not be applied to 1st or 2nd year teachers, given how long the learning curve can be, and would have to be modified for different neighborhoods/districts, depending on local conditions (affluent areas have very different issues than ghettoland districts). If the unions were allowed a role in this process, some, at least, would be likely to embrace it. After all, the unions lose credibility when they seem to be protecting curmudgeon teachers. This would be a way for them to show that they can actively weed them out.

David Brin said...

Anonymous asked why I hate GHWBush more than I hate his son. And I am curious. I thought I expressed why pretty well, earlier and I wonder if any of you actually read and remembered my reasons. In any event, seeing them paraphrased can be instructive.

Anyone care to tall anonymous why I despise the father?

Paul, my earlier suggestion was for all stakeholders to get to have some say in putting a teacher under scrutiny, but none should get the power to fire a teacher, all by themselves.

Teacher peers
Test score progress
Student ratings.

If two hate you, the ball of closer scrutiny gets rolling under full tenure protection.
If three hate you, the ball rolls at an expedited rate. Tenure is suspended and burden of proof shifts.
If four hate you, you are gone. Burden of proof is entirely on you that you were misjudged and should be rehired.

Paul SB said...

Right, you said that before, and as I said, it's a hell of a better idea than anything else I have heard.

Alex Tolley said...

@Robert - If I were Musk I would be steamed that a part failed so badly. The supplier is possibly going to face some nasty adverse business events. Questions I'd be asking is how such a part could fail so badly as it implies poor QC by the manufacturer. Is it possible the part was counterfeit and got into the supply chain?

Metatron said...

David, I've been subscribed to your blog for quite a long time, but I genuinely cannot remember you calling senior the worst of the two. At the very least he wasn't a national embarrassment that is still the punch line of jokes a decade later and had the good sense not to invade Iraq. Could you reiterate please.

David Brin said...

Anyone care to answer Metatron and show that yourecall and can paraphrase my reasons? There were two big ones.

Two words. USSR and Iraq.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re Teachers and Administrators

I get the impression that the Administrators actually run the schools in the USA
Is that correct?

Here in New Zealand the schools are run by the senior teachers
The heads of departments and the Principal (who are all teachers)

There is an "Executive Officer" at the two local schools I know about
But he/she handles the paperwork like an office manager
Neither of the Executive Officers I know have as much "authority" as the senior teachers at their schools

I appreciate that "management" is a skill that teachers don't need to have but it seems to me that you can hire a "manager" but still have the manager reporting to the head teacher or even a board of the senior teachers

The local board of directors is then above all of that - and here is elected from local people - mostly parents
But that board does not have "detail control" - it can sack a Principal but not tell him/her what to do

How does that vary from your system?

Jonathan S. said...

In Iraq, Bush 41 promised support to the people of Iraq if they rose up against Saddam Hussein. The Marsh Arabs believed him - and when they rose, they didn't get so much as an airdropped crate of surplus M-16s for their trouble. Saddam decimated their numbers, and drained the swamps which they depended upon for their livelihood. Bush 41 never even apologized for hanging them out to dry like that.

Not clear on the USSR reasons, though. Do they have something to do with the sudden rise in crony capitalism and criminal empires in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution?

Tony Fisk said...

To the Iraq betrayal I would add: it was done at Saudi 'request', and Army Commander (Schwarzkopf*) was furious at the time, especially when he discovered that the escape routes to Basra had *not* been secured, as he'd been informed, and that the Republican Guard had managed to escape. For this, the oppressed and embargoed Iraqis were meant to greet the liberators with flowers and kisses twelve years later?

Stalin pulled a similar dirty trick outside Warsaw in '44. He, at least, was acting in his own best interests.

Like Jonathan, I'm a little hazy on the USSR issue. My impression is that, in another age, the fall of a tenacious enemy led to the Marshall Plan and assisted recovery. Japan (and the World) did not suffer the fate of Germany after WWI. In contrast, the fall of the USSR simply led to a return of the carpetbagger mentality, and grudges. I would add that a failed state with nuclear weapons isn't something I'd want on my conscience.

Tacitus said...

I would paraphrase by saying David's attitude towards Republicans generally, and to the Bush family specifically, is hostile to the point that engaging in a discussion on the matter has no merit and simply brings out the worst in everyone.

Now, as to the current political landscape.

I rather like Webb. He has a varied background. While putting authors (a minor part of his bio, sure) in charge of things has not often turned out well he would at least not need ghost writers! And he is a faint surviving trace of an earlier, more centrist Democratic party.

I wonder how much of Jerry Brown's success comes from the fact that he comes across as a pol who has run his last campaign? Nothing to prove anymore.

Another stray idea flits past. While I am generally a fan of governors for Presidents, are there some states that are less suitable training grounds for the Captain's chair? Alaska is a very atypical place, oil revenue, huge government land ownership, libertarian to (perhaps?) a fault? Works for Alaskans but maybe running the US that way would be a disaster. Louisiana has a legal system based on the French system and has ingrained corruption. On paper Bobby Jindahl is ridiculously over qualified to be President. But how would it turn out? Regards big states I don't see Governors of NY or IL having creditable runs at the Pres in modern times, last one who succeeded was Roosevelt and I don't mean FD.

CA has always been less of a state and more of an allied nation. There is Reagan of course, so a successful run can be made from Sacramento. But was RR an anomaly?

An ideal Pres candidate would be from a mid sized, middle of the country state.

An interesting topic, I hope to visit it from time to time. No venom, please.


Jerry Emanuelson said...

If I remember correctly, David's complaint about Bush-41 and the Soviet collapse had to do with voucher-privatization and the rise of the Russian oligarchs. Former Soviet citizens were given voucher-shares in state enterprises.

The average Russian, though, was starving and promptly sold the vouchers to aspiring (soon to be actual) Russian oligarchs, who then promptly squirreled their wealth in foreign banks rather than investing in entrepreneurial efforts in Russia and much-needed structural repair.

Regarding nuclear weapons in a failed state: The United States began two programs that worked as well as could be expected. These important programs were started in the term of Bush-41, but as far as I can tell, all Bush did was to sign his name to the paperwork to make official the programs developed by others.

These two nuclear efforts were the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (which eliminated nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which had suddenly become the 3rd and 4th largest nuclear weapons nations in the world) and the Megatons to Megawatts program which converted warhead-grade uranium intended to destroy the United States into reactor-grade uranium that supplied the United States with up to 10 percent of its electricity for several years.

The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program also blew up all of the nuclear missile silos in Kazakhstan and Ukraine as well as blowing up all of the missiles in those two countries after the Russian military had removed the warheads. The destruction of missiles and silos was done at U.S. expense.

There was no way that Russia was going to give up its nuclear weapons. The Megatons-to-Megawatts program was the best that we could do in this regard.

raito said...

"I thought the whole purpose of NCLB was to use testing and comparable metrics to find out where schools are failing so that attention can be focused on them... so that no child would be left behind!"

How silly. The purpose of NCLB appears to be to show which schools are failing so that money can be taken away from them and given to for-profit schools.

The whole 'Red States are failing worse' thing was an unintended consequence.

Again, the only thing that makes schools work are well-trained, dedicated teachers who make a personal connection to their students. Try to test for that.

Here in WI, there's a couple districts that have improved their records by one simple means -- they feed every student. They found that they could feed all the students for about the same cost as keeping track of who got to eat free. And there's been some movement to keep the meal programs going even when school is not in session. One positive is that there is no longer any stigma to getting free lunch. One negative is that the number of students getting free or reduced lunch was about the only metric the districts had in estimating poverty.

Maslow was at least partially right. When you're hungry, you're not thinking about learning.

As far as governors go, I can't really recommend ours. I think the best thing for my state would be for our gov. to get the nomination, lose horribly, and for the people to finally realize that he screwed the state in order to fuel his ambition. But I don't want Hillary, either.

Tacitus said...

I think we are the Badger contingent here.
I have mixed feelings about Walker. He has the ability, and it is a rare thing in politicians, to gauge a situation and find a way to prevail. Strong "political sense" if you will. This can't be quantified or predicted. I think it tends to be less common among idealists. President Wilson is a good example. If you consider him to be an actual moving part in our political system rather than something of an accidental Pres, Obama perhaps.
Of course the ability to "get things done" could be a major negative if you think a pol is evil. Some of my close family members feel that way about Walker.
For my part I think he is non-evil and smarter than the average bear. But he has no foreign policy experience at all and some of what he has brought to pass in WI has been stupid. I am thinking about loosening restrictions on firearms more than necessary, and once he made what I consider needed reforms regards public employee unions he has gone a bit overboard on the University.
Well, we shall see.
Sorry about the cheese centric side trip there, all the rest of ya.

Paul SB said...

Hello Duncan,

The U.S. system is mostly run by administrators, in combination with an elected school board, which has budgetary control as well as being able to sack administrators that fall out of favor. Firing and budget authority means the school boards can put a whole lot of pressure on admin. And though they are elected bodies, the tendency is for them to be elected mainly from the wealthiest businesspeople in the community, as these are the people who have the financial resources to run a campaign.

To get an administration credential a person has to have actual classroom experience (how much varies from state to state). Ostensibly this is a good thing, and yet virtually every teacher I know thinks that certification process somehow involves a reduction of at least 20 IQ points, given how most administrators change from being a teacher to becoming the enemy. I can't speak to what happens at the elementary level, except to say that the disconnect between elementary and secondary is enormous. However, in 13 years of being a teacher, nearly every administrator I have known has come from one of two places. They are either former elementary teachers or if they come from a secondary background, they were P.E. teachers. Why this is, I have no idea, but that is what I have seen.

Former elementary teachers make for terrible secondary administrators because they expect middle school and high school students to act just like sweet little second graders, and when they universally discover that this is not true, they immediately blame the teachers. Secondary P.E. teachers make marginally better administrators in my experience because they at least recognize that there are huge differences between small children and adolescents. However, teaching P.E. and teaching academic classes are very different, and their experience does not give them the intuition to see what is going on in regular academic classrooms in some very important ways.

Teachers' Unions add another layer of complexity. Most of what they do, these days, is legally challenge firings of teachers. You do hear of strikes these days, but this is becoming less common. The union in my district actually has no legal right to strike. Any teacher who strikes in my district is automatically dismissed for breach of contract with no legal recourse (which is probably why my district is the lowest paid in the region, and has been for decades). Unions have largely become a legal defense network for teachers. This hurts them in the public eye because they are perceived as defending bad teachers, which is often true, as unions are contractually obligated to defend all of their members. Maybe if we could figure out what causes good teachers to turn into terrible administrators that are hostile to teachers, we would have less need for unions.

Unfortunately the court of public opinion is based more on the adolescent memories of voting-age adults than actual knowledge of the ins and outs of the system. So while people do tend to mature as they age, all they really know of the situation is that they remember their high school days when they were adolescents who hated any authority figure, anyone who could tell them to put their Pokemon cards away and get back to work.

It seems to me that teachers have some of the same PR problems that scientists have. I hope I haven't talked your ear off too much about this...

Paul SB said...

Sorry about the cheese centric side trip there, all the rest of ya.

You could send us all a sampler platter! I wouldn't object! Does anybody in WI make Saint Nectaire?

Raito, you are absolutely right about the purpose of NCLB - it was always about the threat of taking money away from schools that were having problems. The mentality was pretty backwards. If an institution is having difficulties, how is taking away their resources going to help them? It goes with that conservative mentality that problems are opportunities to lay blame rather than things to be fixed (not saying that the liberal mentality is much better - they seem to naively believe that all problems can be fixed just by throwing money at them - both mentalities miss that the actual structure of an institution may need to be changed.)

The lunch programs are both a huge improvement and a sad indictment how far this nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, given both the extent and the consequences of poverty, in both rural and urban environments. But there are other issues that can be changed that relate to our failure to accommodate basic human nature. A number of schools have experimented, for instance, with starting school 30 to 60 minutes later than the traditional 8:00, and have seen huge gains in test scores. Why? Growing adolescents actually need an average of 10 hours of sleep per day during their last major growth spurt of their lives. Giving them an extra hour of sleep time has a huge impact on their ability to succeed academically. Most people, however, are clueless about such things. We always hear that people need 8 hours of sleep a day, and that teenagers are lazy bums who want to sleep past noon because they are lazy bums.

This is why I think we have the wrong people running the schools. There needs to be a real infusion of actual science into the institution of education, as well as a willingness to make substantial changes rather than token efforts and endless excuses.

WiseLalia said...

I can see O'Malley and Webb as ideological and qualified choices for VP, but pragmatically and geographically we need to look Southwest. My favorites for VP would be either of the Castro brothers from San Antonio, TX. They are both Harvard educated lawyers, one, Jaoquin, is now in congress, the other, Julian, the mayor of San Antonio. In addition to geography, they represent a big voting block that will make certain the Democrats win in 2016.

Tacitus said...

Paul SB
you seem to be an aficionado, so of course already know that a "true" St. Nectaire is a raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days. It is not legal to sell this in the US. But I am given to understand that in select shops a few quiet words might be spoken and, um, certain arrangements might be made...

locumranch said...

After 3 excellent science-based threads, we descend again into political partisanship:

2 more metrics of U.S. national health (besides GDP) that actually IMPROVED under George W Bush, between 2000 to 2010, include Life Expectancy (increasing 2.0 years for white males, 1.3 years for white females, 3.7 years for non-white males & 3.2 years for non-white females)* and total Medicare Spending which increased from 2 to 3% of the US GDP**.

One thing proved by NCLB data is that we do, indeed, "have the wrong people running the schools" which, after having been left in progressive hands for the last 50 years, have become little more than political indoctrination camps more concerned with progressive policy implementation than scientific instruction, making the western educational system a laughing-stock which is more concerned with T-shirt ideology than concrete Rosetta Mission-style accomplishment.

That the Red States are failing by most criteria, this is indisputable. I have said as much in all of my posts. However, this "failure" of the Red States neither vindicates Blue State policies, nor is a cause for Blue State celebration because this "failure" is most likely a colony-style sentinel event (the canary in the coal mine, as it were) that indicates the imminence of Blue State collapse as the ever-exploited resource-rich Red States are little more than Blue State economic colonies.

The basis of Asimov's Foundation series, it is a well-known historical fact that all great civilisations fray at the margins first, then collapse inwards, so much so that the Blue State urban denizens will most likely see little or no evidence of total urban system failure until the decay process becomes irreversible, much like those once privileged citizens of a declining Rome who fiddled while their civilization burned.

Likewise, its laughable to propose that California (with its bankrupt urban centers, unfunded pension plans, water shortages & its exploited rural class) as a Roman role model for US federal governance.


DP said...

Before Pope Francis, Pope Paul VI accepted the Big Bang theory equating it with "let there be light". In fact, astronomers like Fred Hoyle opposed the Big Bang theory for the same reason. As an atheist, Hoyle was afraid that an act of creation would imply the existence of a Creator. So he opposed the Big Bang and preferred the Steady State theory on ideological grounds.

An atheist can be just as blindly ideological as any fundamentalist.

As for evolution, a Papal encyclical Humani Generis by Pope Pius XII in 1950 decelared that evolution and Catholic teaching were not in conflict. From the earliest publication of "Origins of the Species" the chruch considered evolution to be a "serious hypothesis". And it was Pope John Paul II the Great who declared that evolution is "more than a theory":

"Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis.* In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."

The Roman Catholic Church has never had a problem with evolution, merely seeing it as the mechanism for God's creation and development of life. Nor has it ever accepted a literal interpretation of Genesis. As early as the 6th centurey St. Augustine of Hippo was arguing against a literal interpretation of Genesis. In his treatise on "The Literal Interpretation of Genesis", he wrote:

"It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation"

"With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation"

DP said...


In "De Genesi contra Manichæos", he says: "To suppose that God formed man from the dust with bodily hands is very childish. ...God neither formed man with bodily hands nor did he breathe upon him with throat and lips." ...."certain very small animals may not have been created on the fifth and sixth "days", but may have originated later"

And that has been Church doctrine ever since. The Church believes that God reveals himslf through two books, the Bible and the "book" of Nature. And since truth cannot contradict truth, if physical evidence shows the earth to be millions of years old insted of 6,000 (which is nothing more than the arbitrary calculation by Bishop Ussher), then the Earth really is very old and a literal interpretation of Genesis is very wrong.

Maybe its my background as a Catholic, but I have never seen science and faith as being in conflict.

DP said...

"Cardinal George Pell has already denounced the encyclical, saying the Vatican has 'no particular expertise in scientific matters'."

Then he has never met the Pope's astronomer, who would be happy to baptize aliens if they asked:

I've always enjoyed SF books that deal with religion and first contacts ("The Sparrow", "Case for Conscience", "The Way of the Cross and the Dragon"). If Jesus really was the Son of God and his sacrifice saved us all, then what about the rest of the universe ("I have sheep which are not of this fold"). Does His sacrifice extend accross the universe? Does every alien spieces havea prophet/teacher that sacrifices himself for others?

Alfred Differ said...

Would every alien species need such a sacrifice? They might not have followed the path we are said to have taken. 8)

Regarding growth metrics, I'm not impressed with GDP growth until it beats inflation. While we tend to inflate our currency at a small pace, it is enough to destroy half its value within about a generation. Long term GDP growth that matches this is like treading water and shouldn't count.

Regarding the encyclical, the only beef I have with it is its tendency to cast some of the market participants as monsters because of the processes in which they are involved. It's not the free market that is the monster, but I'll accept that certain cheaters are. I'm not a fan of his apparent views regarding our markets, but it's worth looking at the accused to shine light there and see what happens.

@locumranch: Are those dreaded progressives running the schools in red states that aren't measuring up?

Paul SB said...

Tacitus, if you know those select words, please share! What passes for Saint Nectaire in a tiny handful of shops I have found in the LA area just does not have the right flavor, as far as I can remember it from my much younger days when family in Holland would send packages of goodies every Christmas.

Daniel Duffy, your quote from St. Augustine sounds very similar to Stephen Jay Gould's concept of NOMA, though in a very different context. I sometimes quote St. Augustine to my students, who are mostly Catholic, but this particular quote could be very useful. I have to say, though, that while the Catholic Church officially accepts much of science, that fact does not seem to have trickled down to huge numbers of the laity, in my experience. That is as true now, teaching science to an average of 160 students/year, as it was when I went to church with my mother as a wee lad. There is a huge disconnect between the official line and what the average worshiper believes. My students are quite shocked when I tell them about sitting next to Jesuit monks in biology classes in college.

And then there's the vesicular basalt.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, Brown was immensely popular before his recent re-election. Can I ask you what’s NOT to like? He’s nonpartisan and trans-partisan, cuts through dogmas to get to the pragmatic heart of any problem, has had spectacularly positive outcomes…. hum?

Allied nation. Huh. Interesting thought.

Um, rate of spending increase on medicare is a SUCCESS metric? That rate of increase declined under Obama. Is that a negative?

Colonial rape of red states? Riiiight. Like they CONTROLLED the federal government until 1861 and controlled it again from 1980 through today… yet THEY are the colonized ones? They suck suck suck net tax flows from Blue America… hm, that’s some “colonization” deal. The DIRECT correlation of science-based sex education with LOWER rates of teen sex, pregnancy, STDs and divorce and domestic violence does persuade blue folks to invest in systems that work. Redders just double down.

Daniel: “The Roman Catholic Church has never had a problem with evolution…”

What Never?

Seriously though, thanks for the Hippo input….

Oh, Tacitus? Show me the GOP contender who does not spout Roger Ailes talking points within hours of their being issued, and who has a desire to work with scientists and who has dared to negotiate with his opponents. Maybe I'll admit then that there are exceptions to the blanket truth... they are confederates aiming to destroy our Experiment.

Tacitus said...


those are all fair questions. I have not rendered an opinion on Gov. Brown, merely said he is an interesting political figure and that CA is a somewhat atypical state. I do harbor some suspicions that Blue State finances (pension obligations etc) may be whitewashed a bit but I have more basis for suspecting this in IL which is in my neighborhood. If Jerry runs I give him respectful consideration.

I thought locum's examples were poor ones. I could give you better if I were still willing to play that game here. Living longer is a trend line that is outside the aegis of who occupies a house on Pennsylvania Ave. And spending more on medicare might just be demographics. weak soup. And you continue to, ahem, see the issue of STD/teen preg stats in a different light than most people. Well, your soap box I guess. Didn't know there were so many Redsters living in Washington DC these days.....

I have a harder time with your multipart question on current GOP contenders. It is even hard to define right now who qualifies as a contender vs - thinkin' of the Donald here - somebody who just wants to make noise. I think there are some worthwhile folks who have a shot on the R side but it might be best to wait for the herd to cull a bit.

I don't think I will support any dynasty candidate. On the D side I am interested in Webb. On the R side I am pondering/watching Walker, Kasich and Rubio. Not perfect by far but worth study. On the VP side the R bench is very deep. Nikki Haley, S. Martinez come to mind. And of course any on my P list who don't catch on for the Captain's chair. I will revisit this in the future.

Paul SB, to show that at Contrary Brin you can learn about almost anything, here is a quick primer I found on the purchase of Illegal Cheese!

psst...vous avez le fromage "special"?

Anonymous said...

I have always enjoyed conspiracy theories, just for the sheer imagination of many of them, but I have never believed in most of that clap-trap. However, there are two charges of conspiracy that I do think are close to the truth; that the British Royal Family had Princess Diana murdered and that George H. W. Bush was on the CIA team that assassinated JFK, likely related to his involvement in the Bay of Pigs Incident. He was in Dallas that day and has a ridiculous number of ties to all the major players.

DP said...

Dr. Brin, the Roman Catholic Chruch has never had a problem with evolution. Every Fundy who accepts Geneiss literally should read the following from St.Augustine:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."

SteveO said...

I am hoping that after the Donald implodes and takes some number of candidates with him, that Huntsman pops back in. I don't know that I would end up voting for him, but for most of his campaign, he seemed to be at least rational. I'd love to see a debate with Bernie, Hillary, and Huntsman.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul

"Teachers' Unions add another layer of complexity. Most of what they do, these days, is legally challenge firings of teachers."

We have teachers unions here as well
They don't really do that much because all workers here have the equivalent of "tenure" - on the national stage they do try to keep the government from interfering too much

From what you are saying the main difference is that the "Administrators" (Executive Officer) here are glorified clerical workers and the schools are run by the senior teachers

The Executive Officers that I know actually have no teaching experience but are very capable "Administrators" - they work like an "office manager" - the teachers decide what they want to happen and the "Executive Officers" handle the scheduling, paperwork and all that sort of thing.
Any assessment or disciplining of the teaching staff is done by the head teacher

I would ask - Why do you have an "Administrator" in charge?
To me it seems the wrong way to operate

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - GDP is usually measured after inflation - i.e. it is real, not nominal growth.

DP said...

@Alfred "Would every alien species need such a sacrifice? They might not have followed the path we are said to have taken." CS Lewis' sci-fi novels include worlds that had not yet fallen.

As for Jesus and aliens, Taylor Caldwell's book "Dialogues with the Devil" addresses this very issue. The novel is a series of letters between Lucifer and the archangel Michael. It describes Lucifer's rebellion against God and his continued struggle to undermine God's plan on billions of inhabited worlds across the universe. Both heaven and hell are filled with the souls of beings from a multitude of planets. Sometimes Lucifer wins, and the intelligent races of these fallen worlds abandon God and damn themselves to extinction and their planets to death and ruin. All of them however have been potentially saved by Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Which angers Lucifer greatly since God chose the ugliest, meanest, lowest and most backward planet in the entire universe for his incarnation. No race in the universe is more evil and ignorant than the inhabitants of Earth.

As usual, the Devil gets all the best lines.

A God that really could reign over the entire universe would have to have certain attributes. A universal God would have to transcend spacetime - or He can't be God. How could a universal God exist within space and time, constrained to travel no faster than the speed of light? God by definition would have to be an entity that exists outside of space and time, being in all places and experiencing the past, present and future simultaneously.

And what is time to an entity that exists outside of time? "A thousand years is but a day in the eyes of the Lord" - so are a million years, so are a billion or a trillion, or infinity. (something Fundies should remember next time they claim that creation occurred during 6 literal 24 hour days only 6,000 years ago). He would experience every moment simultaneously.

So from His point of view, He would still be hanging on the cross in agony, has always done so, and will do so forever - a permanent sacrifice.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: Then I may need you to clarify what you mean by 'absolute' GDP per capita. What is my reference frame here?

In the post inflation sense, I'll admit I'm still unimpressed when it is below 2% and concerned when it is below 1%. I start looking for the leeches sucking my blood if it stays that way. Innovators are all around us and it doesn't take all that many to operate in a free market and accomplish 1% or a bit more. Cheaters leech away potential income for their own consumption, so that's the connection.

The other reason I look for a 2% rate or higher is that leads to a doubling of incomes (on average) about every 36 years. If we aren't pulling that off, there are certain economic problems (like climate change) that are going to smack us in the face before we have the income to consider solutions that are too expensive today. If we can't convince people to adopt TWODA solutions today, we need to grow incomes to be ready to afford expensive solutions tomorrow.

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: Heh. The problem with a universal sacrifice is it suggests one was needed. If all the alien races committed some version of original sin, that suggests God screwed up I would argue... if there are a lot of intelligences out there. Think about the statistics. If it is just us, the blame would lie with us. If it is everyone... well... I'm a software engineer. I know what it means when my apps don't work for everyone. 8)

I do enjoy this kind of fiction, though. I find it much easier to work out which concepts among all the things I think I know aren't properly justified. A good short story can express what a philosopher takes a whole career explaining. A good novel can change the world. I read Dune and the sequels when I was in college and came away with a deeper understanding of how I DIDN'T want the world to work. Some of the real dystopias are even better examples.

In recent years, though, I enjoyed Gaiman's and Pratchett's 'Good Omens' not for the usual stuff, but for the bit where one of the Four Horsemen had to be replaced. Without many words, that made me look at the impact our medical/biological knowledge has had over the centuries... and it's stunning. We destroyed one of the horsemen already. Hah! I had so much fun with that little part I tried to imagine story variations where we killed off the others... or created four of our own to fight back... or ... heh. Fun!

These stories are probably better at converting people than all the preachers combined. Sticking too close to ancient ones that don't resonate in the modern era, I think, is the path to extinction for a faith.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - I should have used the word "real" for inflation adjusted GDP. A inflation measure, the "GDP deflator" is used to reduce the nominal GDP to the real GDP. However, we should also adjust for population size, so the real GDP per capita is the best measure of improvement for the population.

You are correct that 1% is very low for real GDP growth the industrial era, although high for the pre-indsutrial era. However, as we have seen, and you have noted,, GDP growth has not improved the incomes of the population, with median real income per capita almost static since the 1970's as all the productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital. Ideally those productivity gains should have been shared by the employed and employers.

I agree we want to increase real GDP growth, preferably to 3% or more, while also reducing the carbon emissions of the energy needed to support the economy. IMO, the better the economy, the more likely we are to achieve this energy goal, which may seem paradoxical. I think we agree about econ gowth and desirable outcomes.

Andy said...

Why don't you think Bernie Sanders will shatter the narrative? I think he is doing just that! He is going to Red states like Arizona and Texas where he is drawing huge crowds. I've seen posts by both tea partiers and libertarians in support of Bernie. I feel a political revolution is finally coming!

Bernie takes a reporter on an inside tour of our corrupt, dysfunctional congress:

Anonymous said...

Does any of this sound like the run up to WW2? The wealthy seem to think that the general public is stealing their wealth by daring to exist. It may be too soon to worry but I give the chances of living as long as my parents as about 50/50. I already have blown the chance of retirement by not having enough to invest in a 401K 40 years ago. The republicans sound like the nazis. If you are not rich, white, male and evangelical the committee will come for you.

David Brin said...

LOTS of answers:

Tony & anonymous: yes,half of my hatred of GHWBush was his flagrant, deliberate, murderous and deeply evil betrayal of the Iraqi shiite population when they were rising up against Saddam at Bush’s urging and in our name. A million people may have died, and Gen. Schwarzkopf begged to be allowed just 30 hours to go save them. The worst stain on hour honor in living memory. And it left us this mess in the Middle East, when the Shiite Arabs would have been our best pals, ever.

But worse was sending Cheney and a hundred “advisers” to Yeltsin to help manage the “transition to capitalism”… that was 100% a raid to steal Soviet state companies and leave the Russian people owning nothing. There were hundreds of ways to handle the transition. Bush’s was the PERFECT way to craft today’s bitter, impoverished, angry, corrupt and nuclear armed Russia.

Tacitus, I never claimed ALL blue-staters were angels. But anecdotal corrupt-gerrymandering blue states like Maryland and Illinois are exceptions to general trends in a majority of blue states. And Maryland is about to end gerrymandering! (we can hope.)

In contrast, Utah, Texas and Alaska are the anecdotal exceptions from general red state traits of corruption, cheating and Drug War obsession, wretched schools and dismal scores at simple-decent living. Each choosing one or two items from the list and backing away from it. Idaho from Gerrymandering (the GOP simply does not need it there.) Alaska from the Drug War, Utah DOES set an example for clean living and Texas has been improving their schools.

Notice that I am willing to see exceptions when others rise up and show me exceptions! Still, they are exceptions to stunningly loathsome and pervasive generalities. While blue anecdotal cesspits — Illinois, DC and so on — are exceptions in the opposite direction.

Anonymous, while I accept the possibility of JFK conspiracies, I have never found any that smelled-right to me.

Daniel, the Vatican in the 17th through 19th centuries was stunningly anti-enlightenment… with patches of brilliance. Come on. You cite Hippo and Augustine. Are you telling me I could not find stuff by Pius VIII etc that seems to us intensely troglodytic? Ah well, I will let you win this one out of laziness. Nice Hippo and Augustine quotes, though.

SteveO the sad thing is that Huntsman tried to raise the notion that one can be libertarian-conservative without being anti-science or kowtowing to oligarchs. He was laughed out of the party and got zilch.

Daniel the Caldwell scenario is fun… but it takes as given that the Creator would remain detached and mysterious and uncommunicative with all races AND hold them accountable to the unfair punishment of Original Sin (OS). A doctrine whose SOLE purpose was to concoct something terrible that Jesus succeeded in overcoming, since his temporal messianism changed the real world not an iota. Only if you accept OS can he be viewed as having accomplished anything. And yet OS is - on the face of it - the sort of policy that would be enacted by a crazy person.

As an alternative to Caldwell, see Alan Lightman’s “Mr. g”. Mr g features a fictional depiction of God as he forms Creation and tries to deal with his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, who live in the Void. The book depicts God ("Mr g") as a being that is omnipotent but not omniscient, as the universe is created through "trial and error". Mr g is further bothered by his rival Belhor, who constantly challenges him to explain everything and to exempt humanity from rational laws.

DP said...

@ Dr. Brin "the Vatican in the 17th through 19th centuries was stunningly anti-enlightenment"

At the time, it was under siege by the Protestant reformation, threatened by rising nation states led by aggressive monarchies, and trying to purge itself of the corruption of the Renaissance popes (the Borgias, Leo X, orgies in the Vatican, cardinals being poisoned to obtain their wealth, etc.). The Church reacted like any other government would in the situation, it took a hard line towards a lot of things during the Counter-Reformation.

But science was not one of them. One of the hings that pissed me off about the recent Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson was its portrayal of certain victims of Church persecution, like its ham handed portrayal of Giordano Bruno. (it was also preachy, something atheists are prone to, Carl Sagan was never preachy which made the original Cosmos far superior in my opinion - but I digress).

Since the issue of past persecution of science by the Catholic church has come up let's talk about some of these martyr's to science, shall we?

Giordano Bruno,

Who was not burned at the stake for advocating the idea that there were other inhabited planets orbiting around other stars. He was condemned for being a pagan advocate for the hermetic tradition. Hermetic writings treated the sun as a god, and the rest of the universe as moving, and hence alive. This it turns out is the real reason Bruno was attracted to Copernican helio-centricism. His belief in the sun's divinity nicely dovetailed with a heliocentric world view. Bruno was a martyr to pagan mysticism, not scientific inquirer. What was done to him was wrong, but to make him out, like Cosmos did, to be some sort of scientist persecuted by the evil Catholic Church is a load of crap.

Kopernick (Copernicus),

Whose helio-centricism was proposed without a single shred of empirical evidence. Such evidence would not be available until Galileo saw through his telescope that Venus had phases like the moon. A mechanical explanation for planetary orbits would await Newton's "Principia". (Newton, BTW would remain a devout Christian who spent more time in Biblical study than in scientific pursuits). What motivated Copernicus wasn't science but neo-Platonist philosophy which taught that the sun was symbolic of God's ability to create and therefore deserved primacy at the center of the universe. This was in opposition to the Aristotelian view which dominated the Church as Thomas Aquinas' scholasticism) which assumed that the Earth was the center of the universe.

DP said...


Galileo Galilei,

Whose friends and admirers included the Pope and Jesuit college in Rome. There was much more involved in Galileo's trial then a simple confrontation between religion and science. Ironically, the majority of church intellectuals were on Galileo's side while the clearest opposition came from secular ideas of the academic philosophers (see "The Crime of Galileo" by Giorgio de Santilanna).

The truth is, on the whole, the Church had no argument with Galileo's theories on science.
Their objections lay with his attacks on Aristotelian philosophy (as formulated for the Church by Thomas Aquinas' Scholasticism) - and all the metaphysical, spiritual and social consequences associated with it. Aristotle's philosophy was thought necessary for the formulation of religious and moral laws. Galileo was also caught up in an intellectual power struggle between the older secular elites which ran the universities and had a vested interest in defending Scholasticism and a new generation of pragmatic young Turks like himself. The Church, being threatened by Protestantism felt it imperative to defend Aristotle. His friends in the Jesuits in effect told Galileo, "We know you're right, but give us time to break the news to the masses. The middle of a war with the Protestants is no time to be undercutting what was considered the basis of our faith. So please publish in Latin for the elite and not in the vernacular for the masses." Not only did Galileo ignore the advice of his Jesuit friends, his "Dialogue Concerning the Two Principle Systems of the World" includes a dim witted buffoon named Simplicio, a thinly disguised caricature of the Pope who had been Galileo's friend and admirer. Is it any wonder that the Pope and the Jesuits turned against him?

In short, Galileo was being a total dick.

In spite of this Galileo never repudiated his faith and remained a devout Catholic. Only Galileo's determination to remain within the Church can explain his determined efforts to convince the Church hierarchy and why he declined all chance to escape to the safety of the Venetian Republic.

DP said...

As for the Renaissance Popes, there is something to be said for violent, corrupt societies. From Orson Welles character Harry Lime in the movie "The Third Man":

After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Tony Fisk said...

Daniel Duffy said:

I've always enjoyed SF books that deal with religion and first contacts

A couple of short stories you may find of interest:

The Star (Arthur C Clarke) - a Jesuit must ponder the possibility that the Star of Bethlehem was a nova that destroyed the civilisation living on one of its planets.

The Problem of Pain (Poul Anderson) - tragic tale of two well-meaning alien species (Human and Ythri) who try to help each other according to their own moral values.

A further entry for the Cautious Company of Clandestine Cheesemongers: Dorset Vinney (which, I gather from my in-laws, also had a problem with maggots)

Andy said...

Tea partier for Bernie:

Libertarian-leaning Repub for Bernie:

Tim H. said...

Wouldn't mind seeing Bernie win myself, contemporary conservatism appears to lack extensibility, and needs time off for a reset. A Sanders victory by itself wouldn't fix everything, but it might slow our headlong charge towards a dead end.

raito said...


I agree with part of your assessment of Walker. He is a very good politician. Unfortunately, being a good politician does the people no good unless coupled with getting the right things done. Personally, I don't find that he has done that.

I think we're on opposite sides on whether he's done any good. I think for my part it's one of those 'cite me one thing...' instances.

I find I'm having a huge attack of schadenfreude at his current approval ratings. Far lower than he had during the recall election.

Look, I'm no fan of public employee unions. The WSEU regulations are a large part of my failure to complete college (though that's an involved story). And I do believe that there can be cases in which the various powers of unions should be properly curtailed because the need for public good is greater (for example, police and firefighter strikes).

On the other hand, I see part of unionization as the right to assemble. As such, that legislation is unconstitutional.

And do you really think it was something other than a way to reduce opposing political donations (with a bit of pandering to the presidential money)?

At least his campaign manager was honest enough to say Walker appears where there's the most money to be had.

Paul SB,
There probably isn't. There's currently some, um, troubles, with the raw milk industry in WI. And if there was a St. Nectaire equivalent, it would probably have a different name.

As and far as school administration goes, our current district administrator was pretty much hired completely secretly, after a ballyhooed 2-year 'failed' search for someone.

Anonymous said...

@Daniel Duffy

The ability of Catholic apologists to explain away the Church's past "sins" never ceases to amaze me. I guess that's why it's still here. Too bad you didn't deal more directly with the inquisition, I'm sure you could readily explain why the torture and execution of Jews and female herbalists wasn't really all that bad compared to what the Protestants did and why the Church had to do it for the maintenance of a "moral" legal system.

SteveO said...

"SteveO the sad thing is that Huntsman tried to raise the notion that one can be libertarian-conservative without being anti-science or kowtowing to oligarchs. He was laughed out of the party and got zilch."

Yep - it will be instructive to see where things land this election. After the apparently inevitable buffoonery of early Republican primaries, will it shake out that we have a fundamentalist as the candidate or not.

The Republicans are running the risk of becoming a regional party. Even as it stands, I don't think a Republican can win the White House unless there is self-destruction of the Democratic candidate. Win the Congress, yes due to a variety of factors including gerrymandering, but not the White House. (Not clean enough for the prediction registry?)

Tacitus said...

If it helps some of the generally Progressive/Liberal/Libertarian folks here have a better day to say it, there are a number of current GOP contenders, perhaps more than half of them, whom I could not support. Even allowing for the need to be heard, and make no mistake any candidate who is out of the news cycle for more than a week now is probably toast, I fully recognize the possibility that the eventual nominee may be highly problematic for we moderates to support.

Of course it also depends on who the Dem nominee is. Having softened you folks up with the cheery news that I might not vote R next year, let me ask.....does the dynasty aspect of Hillary make her a deal breaker for some of you? I know it is unfashionable to mention the deep sixed emails issue, but had a Republican office holder done this would you ever, to paraphrase Good David, trust her with a wet match again?


Tim H. said...

Invoking Douglas Adams, Hillary might be "The right lizard", least offensive. And Tacitus, FWIW, I don't wish to see an overthrow of conservatism, just more balance.

Paul SB said...

Tim, I'm not sure if Uncle Hillary is the right right lizard, given the sexism I see all around me, but that might be a product of the where I work.

Tacticus, Tony and Raito, the idea of illegal, black market cheeses sounds like a Monty Python skit in the making. I guess I'll have to pull a bank job so I can go on cheese vacation, though I won't be shooting for the moon.

Duncan, I want to answer your question about administrators, but I have to drop my daughter off at work. I'll get back to you when I can.

Tacitus said...

Paul SB

There IS a Monty Python ref in there of course. From Life of Brian where somebody is trying to hear the Sermon on the Mount:

Spectator I: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers".
Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.


Tim H. said...

Paul SB, neither am I, and why do we have to have a lizard at all?

raito said...

Paul SB,

More WI oddness. Monroe, WI's high school teams are the Cheesmakers.

As far as Hillary, the dynastic thing bothers me (as it did with Bush the younger). So does some of the things she's done.

Duncan, our school administrators are only nominally teachers. It seems to me that they're people who worked as teachers, and decided to ditch that for management. I'm always skeptical of people who do that. It tells me that either that it was their plan all along, or that they soured somehow. It's very rare to find someone in management who did it reluctantly.

As for why we have them, it's the top-down nature of the bureaucracy. This isn't Robinson's Mars, where management is a contractor.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tacitus - I am in the camp that would prefer to prevent dynasties. We've had them before, but the Bush family is the big modern version. The Clintons not so bad as yet. I wouldn't make that a deal breaker, but it is a negative point. My concern with Hillary Clinton is not the dynastic issue, as she would be a a very competent president IMO, but rather that she is very much a corporate Democrat and will just maintain the power of corporations and the wealthy. Sanders is a breath of fresh air, as are other non-running populists like Warren (who I would like to see in a functional role with a cabinet position if we have a Democratic president after 2016, or perhaps better still, running the DoJ).

I am more concerned about a Republican dynasty, not because of the policies, but because of the long refrain of Republican leaders publicly stating they want permanent control of the 3 branches of government. That seems to be like crossing the Rubicon, and we know where that led after a few generations. The US might become a war mongering patriarchy, or worse, if the GOP got its way. (I'm too old for bloody revolution).

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: Thanks. Real GDP makes more sense. It’s unfortunate the site linked doesn’t show Obama’s more up-to-date numbers. The chart tops out at 2011 listing only the first couple of years of his first term, so it isn’t a shock that his number is low.

I’m deeply skeptical of the relevance of the static mean real income per capita number for the US. I don’t doubt it has been calculated correctly, but for trends over such a long period, the market changes significantly. I tend to look to PPP numbers for long trends because what my dollars can buy today, I couldn’t even touch back then. I remember the early 70’s when I bought a little transistor AM radio. For about the same price today, I can buy a laptop and stream every radio station in the world. The charge to connect falls into the utility side of my budget which existed back then too, but the utilities available to me now are more numerous and complex. So while I have no doubt the median real income has been level, the dollars have changed because of what we can buy with them. I don’t really care what the dollar value of my income is if what I can buy with them keeps improving, so I’m not convinced the ideal thing would have been to spread the productivity gains in terms of dollar values. We DID spread them in terms of other values.

Long trends tend to require these aggregates (X per capita) to even be discussed, but the more I look at them, the less sense they make to me. I can read the definitions and follow the learning material, but when I look at the models, my science training kicks in. I look for alternate models that might make the same predictions (ex post facto) with different explanations. Too often, they are easy to find except they make different ex ante predictions. Color me deeply skeptical as a result. The upshot of this is that every time David issues his ‘just one metric’ challenge regarding GWB and his father, I shake my head and wonder if that’s good enough to make his point. I agree with him regarding GWB on a number of things, but I don’t give the gov’t much credit for economic events except the bad ones. There aren’t many measurable metrics left after that dismissal. 8)

Dennis M Davidson said...

The Renaissance Mathematicus blog (written by a science historian) is a reliable source of information on Galileo and his contemporaries.

Acacia H. said...

Here's the thing about a Sanders Presidential Run vs. a Clinton Presidential Run.

Clinton is concerned with becoming President. If she does, she believes that rising waters will float other Democratic boats... but she will likely be left with a Republican-run House and possibly Senate.

Sanders is concerned with getting as many people to vote as possible because he wants to hear their voices and for their voices to get heard at large. He will not expect his popularity to raise other boats. He will strive to build an organization that will get other Democrats elected... and in turn stand a good chance of taking the Senate and either massively reducing the Republican hold on the House, or retaking the House. Further, he may even fight on the local and state level... so that Democrats can start retaking various governments and repair the damage that has been wrought.

In short: Clinton is concerned with being elected. She will focus on the states that will get her elected and she will be elected... but will be in the same position that Obama has been in for six years. Sanders will build an organization that can reclaim the nation as a whole from Republicans. And oddly enough... I think that Republicans would be willing to work with Sanders when they wouldn't work with Obama or Hillary Clinton... because Sanders is an older white man, and there are a lot of older white Republican men in Washington right now.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - I share some of your skepticism about adjustments. The US applies hedonic pricing that reduces apparent inflation. It also changes the basket of goods for CPI by assuming substitutions in buying habits. This assumes the baskets are reasonably constant, but these various measurements are different in different countries. The US consistently has lower inflation than other countries due to hedonic adjustments, which presumabl6y also increases relative real GDP.

However, better to use some metric that is reasonably stable in composition, than using none. I let the technocrats do what they know how to do, rather than argue with them. MIT's million (billion?) prices inflation measure tracks CPI quite well, so there is some independent evidence that metrics reflect reality.

However you feel about distribution of productivity gains and real purchasing power, the fact is that income gains have almost all gone to those at the top of the economic ladder, while that was not true in the post WW2 period until the 1970's. I'm not sympathetic to the view that we don't have poverty because everyone has a refrigerator, tv and cellphone. Poverty is a relative thing, otherwise we would use poverty measures based on the street beggars in India.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, again, I do not mind holding unions accountable. But anyone raging at them IN GENERAL should be embarrassed, screeching at a fading force that the Greatest Generation liked… in favor of a rising (fast) oligarchy that the GG despised.

I dislike the Dynast aspect of the Clintons, Sure. You know I am trying to get a theater troupe to perform a cool satire of that. Still, Bill Clinton showed solid administrative chops, the republic NEVER ran better. His appointees were (utterly verified) the best and most honest and most effective in US history. And when Gingrich violated GOP rules and showed up at the negotiating table, Bill eagerly negotiated.

Between the two royal families… one solidly moderate, pragmatic and sensible and the other evil and betraying and harmful to the border of satanic… Um?

I do NOT want conservatism overthrown. I wan it taken to the wood shed and told to STOP CHEATING! Gerrymandering and voting machine riffing and vote-rigging and sucking up to oligarchs, Saudi Princes and China (which funnels funds through Sheldon Adelson’s Macao casino, which makes “amazing” levels of profit.

Realize that Supply Side has been tried and failed utterly, utterly, utterly. And stop waging war on all non-oligarch elites, like science, journalism, civil service and the US military.

Bring back folks willing to negotiate. Hell, I’ll take Newt, even.

David Brin said...

Daniel I am well aware that Bruno was burnt not for his views of a larger cosmos. I also am well aware that Galileo was unnecessarily provocative and sometimes unscrupulous. On the other hand, your dismissals of everybody “under the sun” as a sun-worshipping pagan is sheer malarkey. Copernicus had tons of observational evidence for heliocentrism and your accusation is flat out false.

Seriously, I was taking your defenses of catholicism seriously till you veered down paths of puritanical defensiveness. To suggest that there were enlightened minds across the 2000 years of vaticanism is one thing. I enjoy reading them. To claim that it was all sweetness and the stereotype of frequently ruthless, anti-enlightenment and oppressive bullying has no basis in historical fact? Well… that’s just fantasy.

Bah, do not try to defend the borgias etc. Possibly the Medicis. You go way, way too far. Art flourished despite tyranny, not because of it. Humanity tried breaking out! In the Florentine and Venetian Republics, and oligarchy crushed those flowerings. Led by the Church.

Jesus, Harry Lime as a quotable….

Laurent Weppe said...

"As far as Hillary, the dynastic thing bothers me"

I've never understood the whole "they are a dynasty!" thing regarding the Clintons:

For a political dynasty to exist, you must have a transmission of power from the founding generation to its offsprings. The Clinton are husband and wife, not father and daughter: they are both ambitious politicians from the same generation who happen to be married, and there's no doubt that both would have pursued a political career even if they hadn't attended the same university and ended up marrying someone else (or marrying no one). What should Hillary Clinton have done? Play the meek and supportive and unambitious wife all her life? And more generally, what should young political activists do? Avoid at all cost any form of intimacy with their fellow activists or chose which member of the couple will forfeit his or her ambitions? (And what if we apply this logic to every type of career? "No Ma'am, you can't express interest in becoming university dean, considering your wife's already chairman of the Humanities department; "Sir, we're sorry, although you are unanimously recognized by your peers as qualified to raise to the grade of captain, the fact that you married a high-ranking officer precludes you from rising through the ranks: the army can't be perceived as a den of nepotism, you see")

If anything Al Gore is much more of a dynast than Hillary will ever be: he's the son of a famous senator who virtually inherited his dad's seat (which makes the 2000 presidential election the real duel of heirs), and strangely, he doesn't seem to get a fourth of the flak thrown at Clinton.

David Brin said...

I rolled my eyes over Hill's candidacy in 2008. Not now. As Senator and SoState, she knows the world VASTLY better than Obama did, in 2008 and will have zero learning curve. I would plotz to have her be president...

...except that 30% of the country will simmer with confederate yearnings and boiling rage at her for 4 or 8 years, wrecking any chance we might possibly get out of this phase of the civil war. To be clear, I doubt it will happen at all, till Citizens United and Gerrymandering are crushed. But Hillary (though very little fault of her own) is an utter lightning rod. Alas.

Acacia H. said...

Which is why I brought up Sanders. He's got multiple positives that Clinton lacks. The fact he's building an enthusiastic base in Red States? That's big. That's real big. Because that enthusiastic base would go out and vote in the General Election and could even be enough to topple multiple Republican Representatives.

The fact he's an older white man, not a Clinton or Obama, means that the old guard in the Republican Party will negotiate with him. You will undoubtedly has a schism in the Republican Party afterward like what happened with Gingrich, but at this juncture, that would destroy the party. They would become a regional party and lose a lot of power. It could accelerate the destruction of the Republicans... and lead to the creation of a more healthy conservative party.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Tacitus, thanks for the reminder. I haven't seen The Life of Brian in ages.

Tim, I don't think a lizard is inevitable, but given the extent to which national media shape the debate, it seems very likely that is what we'll get.

Raito, have you ever wondered in Terry Pratchett ever went to Wisconsin, given his cheesemonger reference in Monstrous Regiment (one of my Pratchett favs)?

and Duncan, some time back you wrote:

I would ask - Why do you have an "Administrator" in charge?
To me it seems the wrong way to operate

I hope this wasn't a rhetorical question, or I will look somewhat foolish answering it. I'm sure you will get very different answers from different people. My own thoughts mostly center around cultural evolution, but that should be no surprise given my background (MA in Anthropology). The US spent a number of centuries being first a set of frontier colonies, then a small nation with an enormous frontier. The kind of mentality that conquers a frontier is very exploitative and purportedly meritocratic. Those "rugged individualist" values are appropriate for that kind of environment. But the frontier has been pretty much filled for a century. We cling to those values even though our circumstances have changed dramatically. Today there is nowhere for civilization's malcontents to go except for prison, or up the corporate ladder. Teachers are seen as workers, which is tantamount to being losers in the economic frontier, and puts them into the hoi polloi category by the reckoning of the Old World ethos, which still hangs on in the memes of the wealthy here. Administrators are seen as success stories and more capable of handling important decisions than even the best of the working class.

I don't know a whole lot about New Zealand. I had a geography professor teach a fun little 1 unit summer semester class on New Zealand, which I enjoyed. My best guess as to why your country adopted a more sane system is that New Zealand was a much, much smaller frontier, so it was filled up much more quickly. But probably more important, NZ did not fight a war of independence to throw off their colonial masters. Instead they worked through legal channels to become a respected part of the Commonwealth, so the kind of in your face defiance of all authority that makes so much friction among Americans seems to be much less prevalent there. I could be completely off here. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Paul SB said...

Daniel Duffy,

I have no idea if you will take anything I write seriously, but I will give it a try anyway. Let me start by saying that I have nothing against Catholics, nor against Protestants. My mother was a Catholic and my father was a Protestant, and I learned early on to negotiate different congregations. My best friend in high school was a Jehovah's Witness, who ended up marrying a Jew and converting. I have had coworkers and professors from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, and I have no particular reason to care what your religion is, one way or the other. You could worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all I care, because I discovered long ago that people are people. You cannot judge people by what groups they claim membership in. Groups are abstractions, people are real, and none of them exactly fit any group they claim to represent, no matter how hard they try to toe the party line. It is just way outside our biology.

That much is fairly conventional, but there is another thing I have learned over the years that may be less conventional. Any time a person declares fealty to some social order, be it religious, racial, geographic, national or anything else, there is something emotional behind it. If a person has never done anything in their life that is worth being proud of, they latch onto some heritage or some social group they can claim as their own. It is the cheapest, easiest way to get self-esteem - no effort required. You just have to swear your allegiance and then spend your efforts defending and/or apologizing or otherwise promoting your group. Even those who do not directly denigrate other groups are still playing an ugly game.

It would be easy for me to pick one church or another, or to swell with pride in my American or my Dutch heritage. The Dutch are famous for hiding Jews from the Nazis, they welcomed the Pilgrims from England a decade before they set sail for the New World (unhappy that their children were growing up speaking another language), and have had among the most welcoming immigration policies in Europe. But then, Dutch merchants were instrumental in the transcontinental slave trade a few centuries back, something that most of us would find deeply shameful. There is no human group that does not have blood on its hands, and I am sure they all have things to be proud of. Rather than seeking pride the easy way, by lashing myself to some group and declaring their glory, while decrying those who point to the blood stains, why not just be you? Why not do something you can be proud of, personally. We are all individuals, trying to live our lives in a very unfair world. Jesus died a long time ago, and God is omnipotent, hardly needing your help. There are 7 billion people on this Earth who could use a hand, could use some sympathy, need someone to care about them more than they need any abstraction. It's a big place, with big problems, and none of us can expect to solve them. But we can at least try to do something good with the time we have, something to be proud of ourselves.

Paul SB said...

That one left a familiar old tune running through my hippocampus:

Sick and tired of a the ism-skism game
Dyin' n' goin' to Heaven in a Jesus name, Lord
We know when we understand, Almighty God is a living man

You can fool some people sometimes
But you can't fool all the people all the time
And now you see the light, stand up for your right

Get up, stand up, stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight, no
Get up, stand up, stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight

Bob Marley

David Brin said...

Paul you'd like my short story "A Professor at Harvard" which follows a young puritan man in exile in Holland who then boards the Mayflower... after studying surveying and optics with an Italian sage.....

David Brin said...

New blog posted.


Duncan Cairncross said...

"Teachers are seen as workers, which is tantamount to being losers in the economic frontier, and puts them into the hoi polloi category by the reckoning of the Old World ethos, which still hangs on in the memes of the wealthy here. Administrators are seen as success stories and more capable of handling important decisions than even the best of the working class".

I understand that - workers are "losers" - especially "blue collar"
It's totally wrong but also a piece of our Anglo-Saxon heritage

Another issue which is also mostly the anglophone countries is the idea of
"A manager" as a specific "profession"

Most other countries have "management" as a skill set
So they would have an engineer (or a teacher) in charge who would have "management" skills in his toolbox

One of the Japanese entrepreneurs was asked to work with a British company
After attending a series of high level meetings he complained

"So far nobody has mentioned what your company actually does - what you make"

Dr Brin talked about having his Five groups collaborating on filtering out "bad teachers"
IMHO just getting the "Administrators" into a "service" role would actually be much more useful

Alfred Differ said...


"However, better to use some metric that is reasonably stable in composition, than using none."

I might go for that if the metric has some meaning that is resistant to arbitrary boundaries. I'm not asking for perfection (no such thing exists), but I do want something that is resilient when one tries to fit a different explanatory model to the results in order to get a completely different conclusion.

"I'm not sympathetic to the view that we don't have poverty because everyone has a refrigerator, tv and cellphone. Poverty is a relative thing, otherwise we would use poverty measures based on the street beggars in India. "

Mmm... x2

Beware of being counted among progressives who can't admit that progress has occurred. My father went hungry a while during the depression. My mother dealt with rationing for years after WWII (London). Neither would agree that the family they raised ever faced poverty even when I was scratching out a minimal income in the late 80's in grad school. I wasn't lacking anything necessary, but couldn't do more than get by.

Poverty IS relative in the sense of who will pick up their pitchforks and roll the tumbrels to the gated communities. It isn't relative, though, because many of these folks today (in the US anyway) are not hungry and homeless. In the sense of preventing rebellions, we've done a marvelous job of removing motivation by removing absolute poverty, so one of the metrics I look at most is violent crime. Unfortunately, that can be gamed easily and probably is.

David Brin said...


Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"Metric of US national health that improved under GW Bush: Absolute GDP per capita."

However, the distribution worsened at a greater rate. So the median household income as a share of GDP fell. It's hardly a "metric of improvement" that the overwhelming majority of people in your country became poorer during your watch.

"does the dynasty aspect of Hillary make her a deal breaker for some of you?"

I know the left hates Hillary, probably more than the right does.

However, like Laurent, I don't understand what makes her a "dynasty"? Yes, her husband was President, but how is that a "dynasty"? Unique, certainly. Annoying to many, obviously. But how does it meet any definition of "dynasty"?

Hey, if Chelsea and then her daughter both get involved in politics (and the manipulation of political connections to gain wealth), then we could certainly complain about the "Clinton Dynasty" when little Charlotte runs for President in 2064. But right now, the Clintons are generations away from being a "dynasty".

There's no similarity to the situation with four generations of the same family exerting an inappropriate influence on government, banking and business. This false equivalence with the Bush family is drawn by much of the media, and seems especially popular with the "but they do it too" rightwing apologists, but it's bullshit.

Howard Brazee said...

I see Bush as no worse than the 3rd worst president of the 20th century, but maybe we are measuring different things. I believe Wilson and Reagan hurt the country more.

Unknown said...

I'm a bit astounded that you want a Democratic primary season that shakes things up yet fail to give Bernie Sanders, who is polling extremely well in the face of the Hillary "inevitability" credit for doing so by having discussions of the very issues you are often most concerned about. He not only deserves credit he deserves praise because he is not only getting traction with Democrats with his campaign he is doing it on the basis of issues and eschewing personal attacks against anybody, Republican or Democrat.

Yes I know it is popular to dismiss Bernie,as you have done here, but fight that urge because what he is saying is resonating with a Democratic base and middle that are sick and tired of the same old same old and are activated by issues. And yes, while a lot of what he is saying is basic liberal policy it hasn't been even discussed in any serious way politically in decades. This is utterly unlike the most popular Republican right now, the unmentionable one, who is polling with his party's base solely on the basis of vile personal attacks against every one in sight and not a shred of policy on offer.

If anything illustrates the difference between the two parties today it is the difference between how Trump and Sanders energize the base of their respective parties. Bernie is pushing issues that, yes, have been pushed by a Democratic base that has been ignored by most Dem candidates (except for the necessary pandering without substance) but he is also setting positions from which to negotiate rather than doing what Obama did which was to hand over negotiating positions before even going public with suggested policies. Health care being only one. This doesn't make Bernie an obstinate hardliner but recognizes the reality that by setting the boundaries of discussion honestly between left and right he can then engage in real debate, real compromise and we'll all be the better for it. When something like single payer health care never even gets a part to play in the public and political debate on health care the hard right wins going in. This is the same for many of the issues Bernie raises. He may not get the nomination, though I wouldn't be so cavalier about counting him out, but it will change the nature of the political debate in this election season for the better. Shame on you for not noticing.

Anonymous said...

I understand that - workers are "losers" - especially "blue collar"
It's totally wrong but also a piece of our Anglo-Saxon heritage.
To the 1% it does not matter what your company makes. In fact it only matters to the lower 5% or so, since touching the product contaminates your karma. Your pay is in direct inverse proportion to how much you know about / touch the product. For the real people the point is flipping real estate /stocks etc. Engineers are on the short list at NSA for their demonstrated ability to think. Why else would we have sent manufacturing, farming, mining and other primary and secondary industry overseas? Your rank and file workers have an obvious negative value since there is no effort to retain them. If they have a medical need it is cheaper to fire them than to pay the insurance claim.

Mike Bridges said...

The LA Times report that California topped Texas in job creation is very misleading. It is true that California created 498,000 jobs, while Texas created only 392,900 so California created 27% more jobs total than Texas did - but the population of California is 31% greater than the population of Texas! So in fact the number of new jobs created per resident was greater in Texas than in California.

I suspect the LA Time is a bit biased in favor of California. I'm neutral in the California vs Texas debate - I live in Pennsylvania and have friends in both states!

Anonymous said...

Heinlein must have known something about the "free-floating, ill-temper" of the petty-bourgeoisie (which Max Scheler called "ressentiment"). Scheler was the first to provide a clear description of this deranged picture of the world, which was the chief basis for Hitler's appeal and plays a major role in American life today. In the land of bettering oneself and in the spirit of equality Americans bend over backward to ignore the toxic crowd that Dennis Hopper’s character Peter Vollmer was appealing to in “He’s Alive.” Or Oliver Crangle in “Four O’Clock,” albeit an extreme case of the crank caller or the loser who writes letters to the paper and dares the editor to print it. Capitalism has its losers and it’s an ugly underside. Calvinism can be bad for you.

And now they have Facebook!

siska said...
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