Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sci Tech News -- much good! Some privacy may survive... but Siberia is burning

Please oh pease let me take a break from our insane politics! Starting with... 

...Me & Morgan! Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman - one of the most successful popularized science series ever, featured me in an episode "Is Privacy Dead?" It recently aired in the U.S. on the Science Channel. The questions I was asked were solid… as were my answers… but I do tend to speak in whole paragraphs so expect me to be “clipped.”

In this case, my concepts were simplified a bit... but basically faithfully conveyed, with an excellent final thought.  I'm pretty pleased. (Though my feelings about Edward Snowden are more mixed than they implied.)

Anyway, it’s an important topic. And no I will not officially provide any bypass (illicit) links to the show! Commenters may provide some... but I encourage using the show's prescribed approach. Enjoy!

Oh... and more media. At 9:00 a.m. Sunday September 25 I'll be skyping in to a panel discussion of "SciFi and CliFi" or climate fiction, for the Society of Environmental Journalists' conference in Sacramento CA.  

October will be busy for me. I'll be speaking at Oregon State in Corvallis (the center of human civilization, in The Postman). Then for GE's Whitney Symposium near Albany NY. Then at the great big World of Watson convention for IBM, in Las Vegas. And a Skype-in for MIT's Media Lab on December 3. And one for India's Tata Industries. Phew!

== Science blips! ==

Curious about those Siberia fires and other calamities? Well, just hold on. I have some good - (or at least interesting) - news for you, first.

Posed to leading scientists: Scientific American offers Twenty big questions about the future of humanity, including Can we avoid a "sixth extinction"? to "Will brain science change criminal law?"

Good news.  Another source of helium has been found in Tanzania’s Rift Valley. Till now, the world's dangerously dwindling supply was nearly all sourced in Texas… till the Republican majority in the US Congress commanded that much of the U.S. Helium Reserve be sold - cheap - to their own cronies. An act of corrupt betrayal that, alas, is both typical and tangentially related to the War on Science.

Now bad news… science is revealing how many substances in a modern, urban environment might alter life for infants.  Add to that… apparently (and verify!) … Tylenol.

Petra was already an archaeological wonder. Now drone surveyors have found a newly discovered platform, which measures about 56 x 49 meters, appears to be a unique feature that has "no parallels at Petra or in its hinterlands at present.” 

== Tech Marvels ==

Scientists have created a system a system that (it's claimed) uses solar energy plus hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels with 10 percent efficiency, compared to the 1 percent seen in the fastest-growing plants. 

Outdoing nature... new 'Bionic" leaf is approximately ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis. 

Current breath-analysis devices are bulky and costly. A new radio frequency “nose” may be compact and affordable, allowing many gas-based diagnoses to come via a cheap add-on for a smart phone… or the new (XPrize) Tricorder when it comes out.

One of our 21st Century Edisons is Dean Kamen, most famous for the Segway but creator of a vast array of medical devices and founder of the FIRST Robotics League that has made nerdliness a macho sport on 10,000 high school campuses.  His new water purification systems are being sent to villages all over the globe by CocaCola. Now Kamen is ready to produce and deliver the LUKE (Life Under Kinetic Evolution). This prosthetic arm has been in development for ten years, starting when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) looked for innovative approaches for a whole new generation of replacement limbs for future amputees. 

The U.S. Army’s new exo-armor and amplification suit system is not quite at Iron Man levels, yet. But it is pretty impressive.

The first new nuclear reactor in decades in the US just went on line, reinforcing the fact that  “techno-liberals” have willingly shifted on this issue, a flexibility supported by growing science, technical skill, and the imperative to fight climate change. And the Obama Administration has been putting real money into new kinds of safer reactor design. And if this does not fit your stereotypes? Get used to it. Reality probably doesn’t either. 

And no, nuclear is not the long term solution.  Sustainables are coming online faster than anyone (especially cynics) ever imagined! (Indeed, traitors tried hard to delay it.) But this is going to take a mix.. especially citizens willing to dump dogmas and relearn the skills of ethically-grounded pragmatism.

hedge fund that bets there is no global warming. Hey cultists! Put your money into it and (maybe) win bigtime! Every sane person who sees this has visions of shorting it, of course. Just go for long horizons. Stupidity has short term advantages

This veggie-burger looks, tastes and smells like beef — except it's made entirely from plants. It sizzles on the grill and even browns and oozes fat when it cooks.  This is of more than minor interest. If hundreds of millions can be weaned to much-lower meat use, it could save so much land and especially water, and provide so much nutrition that the balance may tip in our favor. Oh, you'll live longer.

We’re used to thinking of California as quake-endangered. But geologists see an upper limit to CA’s “big one."  Less frequent but potentially far more powerful is the long delayed “very big one” that might hit the Pacific Northwest. You folks in the beautifully moist Oregonian and Washingtonian and Columbian paradise… read up.  Get foundation and water heater bolts and go bags. Live life… but be prepared.

== Environmental impacts ==

Yes, I'll get to the Siberia Calamity in a moment, but first...

Thirty years scientists warned Congress on global warming: In June of 1986, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held two days of hearings, convened by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), on the subject of “Ozone Depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, and Climate Change."

“This is not a matter of Chicken Little telling us the sky is falling,”
Senator Chafee said at the hearing. “The scientific evidence … is telling us we have a problem, a serious problem.”

A sane, grownup Republican senator. So what has changed? Everything the testifying scientists predicted has come true - though in fits and starts, as our planets oceans adapted. Ocean acidification skyrocketed, as expected.  
No. What has changed is something simple. The kind of human being and the kind of American you see being called a "Republican Senator."

Carbon dioxide has been steadily rising since the start of the Industrial Revolution, setting a new high year after year. There’s a notable new entry to the record books. The last station on Earth without a 400 parts per million (ppm) reading has reached it.

Continued impacts of the monster El Nino of 2015-16: "Carbon concentrations at Mauna Loa rose 3.76 ppm between February 2015 and February 2016; the single largest jump in recorded history. The previous record rise, of 2.82 ppm, occurred during the 1997-1998 El Niño. In both cases, scientists believe that emissions spiked due to a combination of warming and drying in the tropics, which can accelerate soil carbon decomposition, and large, drought-fueled fires," writes Maddie Stone in Gizmodo.

== Denialists are hiding under the bed ==

2013 then 2014 broke all records for heat and drought on the planet, but 2015 is now officially the smashing record-holder… except for the first half of 2016, which seems on pace to top all of them.  So what has this done to the cult’s narrative?

Actually, all of this is viewed as GOOD news by the denialist religion! Let me explain. 

Until 2013, their standard cheat was to peg the “before” on 1998  - the previous record holder (a huge El Nino) - and shrug off the fact that every year after 1999 was hotter than the one before. An uneven but steadily rising secular trend! Too complex a concept… I know.

Ted Cruz used this trick as recently as the 2016 primaries. But that cheat collapsed since the 1998 record disintegrated, three years running. All of our 'normal' years are now hotter than the previous, record-breaking El Nino.  (In other words, "Lyin' Ted" was lying, even in the context of his obsolete cheat!)

So now what?  The 2015 State of the Climate report examined 50 different aspects of climate , including dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice and glaciers worldwide. A dozen different nations set hottest year records, including Russia and China. South Africa had the hottest temperature ever recorded in the month of October: 119.1 degrees Fahrenheit (48.4 degrees Celsius).”  

And there is ocean acidification. Repeat it to your crazy uncle because even his crazy web sites have no answer. They just change the subject.  Ocean acidification. Ocean acidification. Ocean acidification.

Oh and once-in-a-century and even per-millennium storms are now happening every…single… year.  Many times per year!  As in the recent humidity crisis in the US northeast and record-breaking flooding along the Gulf Coast.

But do not despair, denialist cultists!  2015-2016 was an El Nino and probably there will be slight dips in 2017 and 2018… along a general, secular climbing trend.  In other words, you’ll get your cheat back!  Just peg your “before” on 2015-2016, and you’ll be able to rant “there’s been no warming!”  

Don’t get it? No? Don’t worry. Fox will massage the talking points for you into nice, spoon sized chunks.   Open wide.

== Siberia is burning... and you never even heard ==

Wildfires have been roaring out of control there since spring, and won’t stop until covered by snow. A disaster about which media are completely silent, and absolutely a result of climate change. This link shows the region in question, “covered by enough smoke to obscure the entire US east of the Mississippi.” Moreover, this creates a positive feedback loop. And one more reason never to let denialist cultists near even a burnt match, ever again. 

Yes, alas.  Try to talk science and things wind up circling back to politics.  It is not the fault of science.  It's our fault, for letting politics be steered by the mentally ill.


Tony Fisk said...

Actually, denialists are now just saying NASA's been rigging the results.

Good to hear the nuclear industry is actually doing something other than just slagging off renewables. Now let's see how vee can compare ze markets (*sheemple*)

donzelion said...

LOL, Dr. Brin gave the 'onward' notice just as I was finishing my post challenging the Marshall Plan (and the failure to erect one for Russia as if it somehow set the stage for what Russia has now become). Fascinating set of links...

Greenpeace seems to have led the way on the observations about Siberia burning. Good on them. Note this nugget though: "Usually around 5 to 6 million hectares of forest burn in a year." WOW!

Now back to Marshall Plan: I am not actually criticizing the plan itself (though the fixed exchange system sucked), so much as the mythology around it. America DID NOT rebuild Germany and Japan; Germans and Japanese rebuilt themselves. Just as all countries that have industrialized themselves (albeit foreign capital plays a role, it's not one of causation so much as correlation). Public investment played a MINIMAL role; investors who made money from their investments enriched each of those countries (as they did China and S. Korea later on).

So, to the extent that the Marshall Plan represented America consciously opting to rebuild Germany and Japan, it's a myth.

But to the extent that strategies erected along with the Marshall Plan proved successful (esp. low tariffs and preventing nationalization of foreign assets), the plan "succeeded."

Yet that success is less because the planners were geniuses or generous: it's mostly because the planners HOPED that as a result of the plan, there'd be far less prevalence of warfare. They counted on the idea that capitalists would take advantage of low tariffs to coinvest at home and abroad - linking elites of the world into a single 'alliance' against war (rather than rival factions jockeying to bring Britain/France and/or Germany back for Round XI).

The absence of war creates an environment whereby wealth can expand to the broad public. The presence of war creates an environment whereby oligarchs can extract the advantages of society, appropriate them for their own benefit, and then deploy the public to defend their stakeholdings.

The "plan" worked not because it was a good or just economic plan, but because it was an anti-war plan that succeeded, and then we (regular people, investors, and many others) did all the rest ourselves.

A lesson I hope we learn from, since we've got our work cut out for us before Mother Nature decides we formed an alliance against her - and retaliates.

donzelion said...

As for today's Republicans, Neville Chamberlain had his defenders up until the point Hitler invaded Poland. Amazing anyone thinks they're "strong" on national defense, or any similar cause!

WWI: Republicans initially opposed, and took strong anti-Wilson platform
WWII: Republicans initially opposed, as part of a strong anti-FDR platform
Saddam Hussein: Republicans favored expanding trade ties with him in '87, even after he used chemical weapons indiscriminately, and even in his own country
ISIS/Assad/Syria: Republicans blocked use of force authorization in '12 when Obama called for it (and now call him weak for bothering to ask them first, while also calling him dictatorial for 'not asking' them...)

Gosh, 'strong Republicans' have been late to the party to stand against every major REAL threat to confront America since Teddy Roosevelt.

On the other hand, they've been very quick to rise up against moral threats (e.g., the war on Christmas, the culture war, and the drug war). In that sense, perhaps God really does need a starship (and Christmas needs an aircraft carrier battle group to defend against homosexual invaders from Mexico).

Jumper said...

So it looks like the Clinton foundations have adopted the Marshall plan framework. Here's to central planning!

(That sounds snarky because it is. But only because the successful Marshall plan was a pretty good refutation of the anti-central planning arguers. I'll call it "the exception that proves the rule" if it makes anyone feel better.) It's pretty odd, really: the Soviets did command economy and so did we. We just commanded it to be free...

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Jumper

"I invented Lo-Jack" - is that the car recovery system?
And what happened?

Nek Baker said...

As a big anti-nuclear war activist in the 80s and a skeptic of nuclear power, I've changed my mind. The toughest problem is the nuclear waste (even if we reduce it in breeder reactors) but the simple truth is we are already "in for a penny, in for a pound." Adding more waste really isn't that big an issue, we already have to solve the problem of the already existing waste, so building more fission reactors to get us thru the period to all renewables is a no brainer. Now let's find a safe, deep repository for nuclear waste.

Tim H. said...

Donzelion, on the subject of Neville Chamberlain, bear in mind that the invasion and partition of Poland was not intended by Hitler as the opening of war, but a short victories acquisition of resources for the Reich. Chamberlain's declaration of war in 1939, when Hitler expected perhaps five more years to rebuild his armed forces made a positive difference in the outcome of the war.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Mel

Re-Nuclear waste
We don't need a "nice deep repository"

The best idea is to go into the middle of one of the US's huge military bases in the desert
Right in the middle mark out a 3Km square and put fences up with warning signs and sensors
In the middle of the 3Km square dig down and concrete a 1km square - with lots of drainage channels so any rainwater is contained

All of the nuclear waste from all over the world can be piled into the middle of that 1Km square - it could even have a hanger type roof over it

Anything really "hot" like spent fuel rods would need a couple of years in cooling ponds before going to the long term storage

Dead simple - incredibly safe AND still available for when we want it for something - which we will

Paul SB said...

Wouldn't one enormous nuclear waste dump become a terrorist magnet? Better to do what they did on Blake's 7 (Pressure Point) and have a fake site with all the warning signs and sensors, while the real site is hidden far, far away. Just as long as it's nowhere near the Andromedan invasion fleet, that is.

David Brin said...

The nuclear waste depository thing was a calamity of stupidity and hypocrisy. Yucca Mountain was perfect and ready, geologically stable and would have worked. The rationale for killing it was that it might leak in LESS than the promised 10,000 years.

Really? People who cannot admit we have ecological crises THIS decade... and many of whom expect the rapture any time now... suddenly think in in millennia, when it suits them?

Bull. Yucca Mountain would have let us remove waste now stored next to our cities! in casks good for far less than 100 years or even 50 and ripe targets for terrorists.

Moreover, the casks stored under Yucca would have been BANK DEPOSITS. No way that our heirs won't find those isotopes yummy, in some way. Unless we blow it. In which case at least one site can be clearly marked.

Paul SB said...

Oh, and Donzel, I still consider myself a Whovian, though probably really a PaleoWhovian, given how little time I have had for watching the new show. Before my car died, I had a nice big Dalek sticker on the back. My new car is white, which made it very hard to locate in a parking lot, so I got a bunch of sticky vinyl - the kind people use to make racing stripes on their trailer-trash muscle cars - and cut it out into shapes of owls with coffee cups, moons and clouds. But I found a funny sticker that looks like the Starbucks logo, except it's a Dalek shouting "Caffeinate!" You have a favorite Doc?

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Paul

A "terrorist magnet" right in the middle of a major military base!
Sounds like a great idea!
Darwin awards for terrorists!

Much better than having a number of smaller harder to defend sites IN CITIES!!!

Having several fake sites in other military bases would be OK - but I'm not sure it's worth it

The logistics of robbing a site in the middle of a base seem to be much greater than the actual benefits you might get from stealing some

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: The current market based system rewards "big swinging dicks" not innovators and actually REDUCES innovation.

Okay. That gets a chuckle out of me for the imagery, but it doesn’t make your point. Obviously, it isn’t the money that motivates them. It is all about sexual signaling. Flashy displays of wealth works for some women and guys know that. Trophy wives cost a lot to maintain, hmm?

But you are arguing that this reduces innovation and on that I agree. Men pursuing courage-only (that’s what this is) are behaving like noblemen who want a lot of children for themselves and few for the rest of us guys. Aristocratic values don’t tolerate innovation except for very limited uses.

There is a bourgeois version of courage that doesn’t involve the same imagery, though. Entrepreneurship requires courage and hope when measured by virtues. The bourgeois version of courage makes the case that the aristocratic version is invalid. If we encourage that in the guys around us through social honoring when they do it right, they might not find a trophy wife, but they probably WILL find someone who is demanding enough on behalf of her children. In other words, we can help them find someone who is pretty good without having to be matchmakers. Since women do a lot when it comes to education of children, that matters.

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: Okay. Your father’s story is a good demonstration of how innovators lose in the first act. He’s not alone and I know that. I’ve seen smaller versions of the story involving fewer numbers of millions and the evaporation of retirement funds. I’ve seen fishy versions of the story where vesting failed in the nick of time, but no one was sure of why. I’ve also seen some very naïve players lose. It is a very tricky game to play. I’m glad your father did play it, though, even though he got screwed. That piece of tech is probably in act three by now because what your story really says is someone stole his role in the play and then the play proceeded. I bought a machine in 2008 with two cores and benefited from the play never knowing the theft back story. Most everyone with a computer has probably benefited. By now, that piece of tech has probably penetrated far down into the developing world embedded in commodity machines.

Predators waiting just off stage to pick off innovators who step out there ARE troublesome, but they don’t invalidate the formula unless they halt the play before act three. We can be upset about the wrong person getting rich from the Deal, but if the play proceeds, the poorest benefit far more than the thief. Aristocrats try to halt the play. VC players like the one you describe stole the role, but didn’t stop the play. I understand (now) your laser focus on the thieves, but I’m more concerned by the censors and the critics. The former stop the play. The latter think they can write it better than anyone else and wind up writing stuff with no third act. I think they are more dangerous than your thieves because they are more numerous. I understand that it doesn’t take many thieves to discourage the entire game, but they are predators dependent upon prey to survive because they also prey upon each other. VC’s must attract funds after all.

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: On Duncan’s point about innovators mostly being motivated by other ideas, I have no issue with the claim. Where I get picky is with the silly interpretation of ‘get rich’ some have including Duncan.

What I said was: Let me pursue my innovation and make myself rich if I can in act one and I promise to let the play work its way out to act three where everyone else is enriched. This is the Bourgeois Deal many of us make with each other without actually speaking it out loud.

One can interpret that in a strict sense (prudence only) and miss the point. Richness isn’t just about money as Duncan pointed out with his rich imagery. Let me do as I wish (within the constraints of social norms) if I CAN in act one and I promise to let the play works its way to act three were everyone else is enriched. Not only will you be richer in terms of money, you might even be enriched spiritually. It happens occasionally that our innovations help people be better people for each other. I can’t promise details, but I’ll let it get to act three.

As for Moral Sentiments, your expansion doesn’t disagree with my short version. I’m aware of Smith’s impartial spectator and how it is formed. ‘To be loved’ in the way he described requires that we not be fraudulent because that spectator would know. We have to deserve it. Smith was a virtue ethicist with an inclination to ignore the transcendent virtues (can’t really blame him considering the times), so ‘deserving it’ couldn’t be reduced to mere prudence like one would expect from someone pursuing incentives.

My readings involve Smith’s books and the McCloskey’s one on “Bourgeous Virtues” where she makes the case for us needing to get back to virtue ethics and away from J.S. Mill and Kant. She contrasts Smith with those who came after and shows the spiritual poverty associated with reductionism in ethics. I may disagree with her on certain transcendents, but she is persuasive when lobbying against ethical reductionism.

Alfred Differ said...

On the climate part of the topic of this thread, I think there is a point to make about sloppy thinking in connecting all the bits and pieces of our climate situation.

When I first started trying to understand what was preventing adoption of climate change policies, I studied the science. The people who objected the loudest pointed at the science and complained. After a while, I could see a few points where the climate scientists might do better regarding testing each other's results, but the science looked basically good and I said so to my friends. Didn't work of course. Eventually I ran into someone who explained why. There were political consequences. Denying the science was one way to deny the politics. So... I began to study that. The dire consequences buried in the politics all came down to economics, though. THAT is what got me to pay attention to economics and political economy.

The science is good, but some of the economic nonsense being pushed in policy suggestions by some people is worse than the looming climate issues. I don't see a way out of this, though. There is far too much ignorance regarding economics and the professionals aren't helping. What's a voter to do... except TWODA? 8)

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I like your three act play
BUT IMHO it fails so often that it actually causes LESS innovation

The problem is that money has become the only respectable game in town
A few decades back too much money was somehow dirty and actual service to humanity was preferred

The innovations and increased wealth that we are currently enjoying mostly date from work and from decisions made during that period

IMHO since we moved towards your money model innovation has actually slowed - its not obvious yet because it takes some time for innovations to make their effect
In computers and software it is faster but most changes take decades

Why don't we look at other different "plays"

The X-Prize system?
Some other way of recognizing contribution?

Even stick to your three acts but change the variables - at the moment we seem to go for a "winner takes all" system
Is there some way that we can have more winners even if each wins less

For the Pharmaceutical industry 75% of actual new drugs are from state research anyway
We could reward the development of new drugs and have the manufacturing and sale separate

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

Venture Capitalists
It's a good name BUT it's not actually very accurate

"Venture Capitalists" seldom put money into new ventures UNTIL they have got well past the "new" bit
Effectively "Venture Capitalists" are predators who operate because the banks who should be funding at that stage are too ignorant and frightened

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few VC’s and been taught the difference between them and the angel investors. When they are honest, it is about risk and about whether they know your field of innovation or not. If you approach them with an idea that would require 55% on their money compounded each year for them to cash out with enough to justify their initial risk, that is asking an awful lot of them and risks bring in the people we all recognize as ‘vultures’ after they’ve picked our bones clean. It’s usually safer to stick to 35% compounded because if you can’t find a VC that sees your project that way, you probably shouldn’t be talking to any of them.

The innovations and increased wealth that we are currently enjoying mostly date from work and from decisions made during that period.

You are still focusing on wealth. Income matters to the poorest who can’t buy the basics and it is ‘real income’ that is growing. Toward that end, quality improvements count. Price reductions in the second act count. Changes CAN take a generation to get to the third act, but they are getting there often enough that our GDP’s are rising with a secular trend.

You want to argue that your crystal ball is better than mine and that we’ve stalled lately? Perhaps we have. There is evidence of plateaus in the real income data. Some have lasted a generation, but that’s not shocking for the 20th century with all the wars. We were also busying ourselves trying large scale experiments in socialism and command economy variants. Innovation doesn’t prosper where one can be sent to the gulag for a failure to respect the social pecking order.

Whether it is the original innovators or the cuckoos that kick them out and take over the nest benefiting in the first act, many plays are reaching act three now. The evidence for this is the collapsing number of people in the world living in extreme poverty. It isn’t charity or some other kind of service to humanity that is lifting them. They have accepted the Deal (at some level) and tolerate inequality as a result. Maybe I won’t get rich, but if I think I might (for the record… I am not looking for a trophy wife), I might tolerate those who do even if they cheated to get there. I get how that might annoy some people, so I offer to look at the most egregious cheaters and help build the tumbrels. What I can’t tolerate, though, is a broad-brush belief that the richest got there in a zero-sum fashion. Some did as Donzelion pointed out, but some did not. The thieves are annoying, but if they don’t stop the play, they unwittingly serve us in the end. I'll help punish the worst, but I might tolerate the others and try to sway their children instead.

Alfred Differ said...

@Jeff B:
The incontestable evidence (cited by Duncan later) is that the percentage of total wealth controlled by the proto-oligarchy is huge, the highest it has been in modern times, and growing.

Hardly surprising since the income of the world is at its highest ever and we can’t use it all each year. Wealth accumulates much like a residue as a result. Who is your proto-oligarchy, though? Name them by name if you can. You’ll find some manage to stay in those ranks over the span of a generation, but many fall out and other step up. The turn-over rate depends on where you say the floor is in terms of wealth and ‘rent’ strategies.

such a threat should I think be obvious. (enough) money buys influence and status, influence and status buy power, power tilts the scales.

Indeed, but there is something that buys power much more effectively than money and a number of rich people would prefer you not think about it. Your devoted time and attention are much more potent. Small, charitable groups operating on shoe-string budgets have a disproportional amount of power because their people work at whatever cause moves them. I’ve seen this get legislation written even with our recent do-nothing Congress. We call them special-interest groups, right? Boo! Hiss! (Except if they support a cause you like of course.)

but you left unanswered the original question.

If (as I advocate) the power and influence and wealth of the proto-oligarchy is a. growing, and b. a threat to a stable democracy and social order, and we pursue as you seem to advocate the elimination of the use of taxation and regulation as tools to limit the power and influence and wealth of said proto-oligarchy, then how do you propose we set up needed safeguards or checks?

Okay. First I’m not convinced the proto-oligarchy is a growing threat yet. David says they are and I’m paying attention, but I’m not convinced. I see counter-forces that I suspect will preserve our democracy. Second, no democracy and social order is stable. Don’t even try to make them so. I’ll object. Third, I advocate the reduction of the use of taxation and regulation, but not the reduction of the projects funded by taxation and the protections seemingly caused by regulation. I’m arguing that we can do better and should try because we should want to reduce the use of implied coercive force. If in doing better we accomplish efficiency, so much the better, but I’m willing to pay more to reduce the implied threats.

Finally, I have no utopia solutions to propose for safeguards and checks. I wouldn’t trust someone who offered them. I propose we think about incremental changes to our safeguards and checks while keeping in mind a design principle. If we can reduce the implied use of coercive force, the threat reduction in each baby step would improve our liberty and calm some of our neighbors who get frothed up over this stuff. If we can do this, we help create a slightly more humane civilization we can hand to our children and let them work on the next step we couldn’t figure out.

David’s sousveillance society as he describes it in his novels IS years away, but there is a version of it that is already here. We might not have gel lenses on stalks yet, but we DO have cheap cameras and microphones. They aren’t down to costing pennies yet, but that’s because act three is only just getting started.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: My graveyard shift has come to an end and I'm exhausted. Trying to write all evening kept me awake, but the sun is rising and this anti-teletubby must yawn and call it a day. 8)

I have half a response thought out to your three posts, but (yawn) I won't finish. I'll leave you with a trailer instead.

The problem is that there are no universals that earn honor.

Thank Goodness! What a boring (and dead) species we would be otherwise.

Tacitus said...

In the interests of strict accuracy a correction for the original post. At the present time FIRST Robotics Challenge has between 3k and 4k high school teams world wide. The much larger figure that was quoted no doubt includes the "farm system", FIRST Tech Challenge and the various versions of FIRST Lego League. Fine programs but for elementary and middle school ages.

Dean made a surprise appearance at our Regional tournament last year. It was - and I am being entirely serious - like a Papal Visit. Throngs surrounded him. Team shirts were autographed.

Very cool that a tech innovator can attain this level of positive influence on so many, and be held in such high regard.


Jumper said...

Alfred, economics-minded people advocate a carbon emissions tax. It would include methane, CO2, coal, petroleum burning, wood burning. Quibbles will doubtless be had over cows, wood chips, ethanol, and maybe cement. But the market forces will drive replacements. It would replace cap & trade, but can't entirely in practice because of tree-farmers demanding credit (think Georgia-Pacific, etc.) And there are complications: is mulch a carbon emitter? You know that it is. What about landfilled wood structures after demolition? That is approaching being moot, as around here they are sending ground-up crack houses to the power plants... But that's ripe for the carbon tax.

Jumper said...

Duncan, I was helping a friend with his rental car business in '86. We had to recover cars rented but not returned. I came up with the idea to put a radio in each car that only began broadcasting if we radioed it with a code, thereafter tracking it directionally. I was thinking about what frequencies ought to be used and I realized local cops already have frequencies allocated. That would be easiest; plus they would be in the loop. Plus they could help triangulate.

This IS the LoJack system. It did not exist at the time. A customer I picked up at the airport mentioned he was from Penn State U, and I told him my whole idea. He got excited and asked me why I was telling him. I said, well, I'm in no position to promote it, why don't you; and if you make a million just give me some. "That's not how it works," he said.

He did promote it at Penn State, they did acquire some patents (that's an odd story - an old ex-cop supposedly came up with the same idea some 5 years prior but never got a bite; then later claimed he was not happy with whatever deal he made with LoJack as they, after my contribution, made with him, but didn't say why)they did make millions, and I never heard from him again, because that's not the way it works.

occam's comic said...

We have already triggered the climate avalanche in the northern hemisphere. Dangerous climate change in the northern hemisphere and at least 20 meters of sea level rise are now unavoidable. We can try not to make the situation worse and start adapting to the changes that we know are coming but the window of opportunity for avoiding dangerous climate change is past.

The climate system we have is powered by the temperature difference between the equator and the poles. Due to the differences in geography between the northern and southern hemispheres the southern hemisphere is much less sensitive to greenhouse gas induced climate change. In the southern hemisphere the antarctic ice sheet sits on a land mass and is insulated from temperature changes in the seas. There is currently about a 70 degree C averaged temperature difference between the equator and the south pole.

In the northern hemisphere the ice cap sits on the ocean and is not insulated from from the sea water. And remember more than 90% of the energy gain from the greenhouse effect goes into the sea water. The north pole is zone on the earth with the fastest changing temperature. It is the zone in which the positive feedback loops form albedo change, permafrost melting, and methane hydrates are already occurring. And finally the temperature difference between the equator the the north pole is on average about 40 degrees and changing fast.

From about 28 million years ago to about 3 million years ago the earth had a weird climatic system. In the southern hemisphere the climate system changed to resemble the current system: Ice covered pole, large seasonality in the mid latitudes and a three cell system for atmospheric circulation (an equatorial cell, mid latitude cell and a polar cell.) But the northern hemisphere was stuck in an older climatic pattern: ice free pole, low seasonality in the mid latitudes and a single atmospheric cell that extended from the equator to the north pole. We may be returning to that type of climate system.

Tacitus said...

Jumper my condolences. I have glibly mentioned my own Million Dollar idea far too often. So don't be surprised if one day you see marketed a colonoscopy prep drink that is a perfect imitation - taste, color and aroma - of beer. Sigh. No entree to the Nouveau Riche ranks for us.


Ilithi Dragon said...

I forgot how much energy it takes to keep up with the posts here. Not that I'm complaining, really; the intellect here is so far above what I experience at work, especially in my particular job, there's no real comparison (and I yearn for it, desperately). But, damn, is it exhausting to keep up sometimes.

I don't really have much to contribute here right now; I haven't been able to keep up with nearly the range of nuances in politics as most posting here, not for some time, and I don't have much to say beyond, "Agree, agree, kinda disagree, that strikes me as wrong, agree, disagree, etc."

However, I will comment that there is a lot of pontification and theorization on how things work and how we would like things to work or how we would like them to turn out, but not much in the way of concrete suggestions of actions we can take to try and bring these things about. It's nice to talk about how things should work, or how we would like things to be, but there's only so much utility to that if it doesn't produce recommendations for actions to take. Actions, which would revolve around predictions, predictions that we could then TEST, either by trying those actions, or by looking at history if those actions have been tried before.

Also, I would like to lament the lack of funding for agencies like EMC2 Fusion Development Corporation, which was on track to have a full-scale, 100MW net power prototype fusion reactor completed by 2020 as of, like, 2012 or 2013, but, so far as I have been able to discover, anyway (a lot of information on their project is kept quiet because they're getting funding from the Navy), they haven't begun construction on that full-scale prototype yet due to a lack of funding (projections circa 2010 were estimating a full-scale prototype would cost ~$400 million and take ~4 years to build).

Not only would it be a fully operational fusion reactor (with ~10 times the energy generation per unit of mass consumed and no radioactive fuel or waste), it would be a direct power generator, producing DC current directly, with no steam systems, which would dramatically reduce the overall size, complexity, and hazards involved in the system.

Unknown said...

Seems to me that simply storing nuclear wastes in the manner described leaves them protecting themselves, unless we've all been totally oversold on the dangers of said wastes. If they're radioactive enough to be attractive to terrorists, would that not leave them as radioactive enough to be lethal to terrorists?

Mount cameras monitoring the area, watch for people in protective suits, send drones to intercept them (as only those up to no good would be there), and the problem would seem to solve itself.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Putin looks at Venezuela and sees his own future if Clinton is elected."

Even with a an oil-friendly administration, prices are likely to remain low. The reasons may differ (instead of coming from the demand for oil diminishing, the prices will be kept low because the Saudi are pumping as much as they can and Americans are wasting their environment while pumping shale gas), but the Venezuelan scenario is likely to Putin regardless of the winner.

My personal pet hypothesis is that Putin is foolish enough to believe he has a shot at fueling the Russian economy through plunder (like the USSR did in Eastern Europe for decades) and is therefore supporting/praising/subsidizing kindred spirits who'll be indulgent toward his imperialist goals.

Anyway, since Putin was mentioned, I'll share with you all that mind-bogglingly shitty piece of Russian propaganda which looks like what would happen if a nazi and a stalinian propaganda posters had had a pair of twins after a night of alcohol-induced hate-fucking who'd then had proceeded to fuck each others like a pair of Lannister heirs.

This was put on twitter by a pro-russian french far-rightists and predictably Le Pen's followers have been furiously masturbating over this picture ever since.


* "I think what the experiment proved was that what Dave Sim set out to do is not possible."

Actually, it mostly proved that writers shouldn't publish anything while they're going through a nervous breakdown.

David Brin said...

Tacitus so cool about FIRST & Kamen! Though I thought they were at 3000 teams 7 years ago, when we were involved.

Ilithi, hope the job goes better! And double hope that current encouraging trends do come through with good and safe fusion power.

Paul SB said...

I have to concur with our draconic contributor - this place is hard to keep up with, but so much more stimulating than most other intellectual environments I find myself in.

I also concur that abstract discussions of oughtabees is of limited utility. Sometimes it is necessary to step back and question the very fundamentals of what we are doing as a society, or even as a species, but that can't be the end of it. For my own part, I'm not arguing for any truly radical departure. I wouldn't trust myself to come up with some fool-proof plan to hang the fate of human civilization on. In the words of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, "That trick never works!" I am only arguing that we tend to our memes very closely, to be sure we are not playing right into the rationalizations of deadly parasites on humankind.

Paul SB said...


Re your comment about writing while having a nervous breakdown, I concur wit that, too. Maybe I even resemble it, so I might be best stepping on the brake for awhile. But please don't get offended if I suggest you might be moving back into cluster bomb territory. Maybe I'm too old fashion (or OCD) for my own good.

Tacitus said...

"... I thought they were at 3000 teams 7 years ago, when we were involved."

You probably thought that because team numbers were in the 3000s then. There has been slow growth. Our team is 5826 and they are up into the low 6000s with team numbers.

But of course not all teams continue on.

Another day, another topic I will talk about the (somewhat) discordant place of programs like FIRST in the educational system.


DP said...

I never realized what a pathetically shallow and incompetent media we had until this election. Our media doesn't have a liberal bias. It has an entertainment bias. Which is why they cover Trump like a celebrity and let slide all of his lies a without rebuttal and scandals without examination. The last straw for me was Matt Laurer at the CIC forum.

Why are there no Walter Cronkites or Edward R. Murrows anymore? When did news become entertainment?

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Johnathan

Nuclear waste could be used in a dirty bomb - does not actually need to be dangerous the public could be terrorized anyway
And something that is not dangerous as a solid can be a different animal as a dust

Having the waste store smack in the middle of a Military base gives effectively free protection
The military guys are completely protected by the 1Km empty zone which is where the sensors and drones live

But the bad guys have to penetrate the base - then the exclusion zone - then back out again

Zepp Jamieson said...

I've long maintained that the US needs news outlets like the BBC or the CBC, or other not-for-profit corporations like the Guardian.
In the early days of television broadcast, the FCC mandated that the networks provide an hour of news coverage each evening, commercial-free. They were not permitted to make a profit from the news, and depended on the quality of their newscasts to entice viewers to watch their commercial fare.
More recently, there was the Fairness Doctrine, which mandated that when news casts expressed opinions, they were obliged to provide a forum for responsible opposing opinions.
Now there's six corporations that control 95% of America's news, and there are no restrains or requirements regarding content or quality. The result is the endless sewer that you see 24/7 on the cable networks, and the tepid and non-consequential coverage you see in papers and on the other networks.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

"You’ll find some manage to stay in those ranks over the span of a generation, but many fall out and other step up. The turn-over rate depends on where you say the floor is in terms of wealth and ‘rent’ strategies."

A study in Sweden found that the families that are wealthy now are the ones that were wealthy 400 years ago

Wealth is FAR FAR more important than income
If you have wealth you don't need income - its the difference between having to hunt every day and having a team to hunt for you

If the wealth was more evenly distributed then we would not need to worry so much about the income distribution

Unknown said...

However, I will comment that there is a lot of pontification and theorization on how things work and how we would like things to work or how we would like them to turn out, but not much in the way of concrete suggestions of actions we can take to try and bring these things about.

I have noticed that also. And I too enjoy the level of discussion that takes place here; David certainly draws an interesting and eclectic group of commenters. Enjoyable as it is, I am reminded of this quote: —That is very well put, said Candide, but we must go and work our garden.

We have already triggered the climate avalanche in the northern hemisphere. Dangerous climate change in the northern hemisphere and at least 20 meters of sea level rise are now unavoidable. We can try not to make the situation worse and start adapting to the changes that we know are coming but the window of opportunity for avoiding dangerous climate change is past.

No doubt you will get many quibbles about whether or not it is really 20 meters and how much good those avoidances will do. Even if you are off by half or more, or if we have another few years to avoid the most dangerous change, it appears to me the time for business as usual (BAU) is certainly past.

Of course the hard part about a change from BAU to a more proactive approach is the need for a very large number of people to buy into the change. I certainly do not know how to bring this about. Apparently pretty much everyone here has the same problem.

Alfred in particular goes on and on about three act plays making things better on the average with the implication that time is not an issue here. Perhaps if we had the greenhouse load of 200 years ago he would even be right. He is certainly passionate and persistent in defending his position. But the temperature is rising and so are the seas. As for me, I would rather have a hefty carbon tax than see Los Angeles under water.

The serious question does come up about whether there are resources enough to finance the transition to a more sustainable future? A recent study finds it to be just possible: The sower's way: quantifying the narrowing net-energy pathways to a global energy transition. The blog post contains a link to the actual study, and the comments there are interesting also. Unfortunately, those commenters also do not have a plan to shift the momentum from BAU.

Kal Kallevig said...

I didn't mean to be Unknown.

LarryHart said...

Kal Kallevig:

I didn't mean to be Unknown

I believe that if you are logged into google when you post, blogger automatically identifies you as that account. Or possibly you can click one of the other identity options, but if so, you have make that effort.

LarryHart said...

Johnathan Sills:

Seems to me that simply storing nuclear wastes in the manner described leaves them protecting themselves, unless we've all been totally oversold on the dangers of said wastes. If they're radioactive enough to be attractive to terrorists, would that not leave them as radioactive enough to be lethal to terrorists?

That might not stop suicide bombers.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Why are there no Walter Cronkites or Edward R. Murrows anymore? When did news become entertainment?

I think you meant that rhetorically, but there is an actual answer. It was during the Reagan administration when broadcast stations were deregulated. News divisions quickly came under the umbrella of entertainment divisions, and news shows were judged not on their journalism, but on their ratings, just like any drama, comedy, soap opera, or game show.

The effect this has had on our civil society is, in my opinion, a feature, not a bug.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Well, Dr. Brin, the job isn't likely to get "better" any time soon. I might get more time when we go up to drydock (once we get the boat turned over to the shipyard, anyway), but the nature of working on a submarine means a high operational tempo, and often times more days out to sea than at home. Fortunately, Big Navy didn't want me as a nuke, despite my ASVAB scores (one too many waivers, I guess), so at least I don't have their crazy hours or schedules, and despite the time demands, I really enjoy my job. My rate is NOT known for their intelligence, by any means, which can be frustrating at times, but on the flip side I get to play with everything on the boat that's supposed to go boom! } : = 8 D Also, if you find yourself in the vicinity of eastern CT before we head up to drydock at the end of the year, I'd be happy to give you a tour of the boat, if we're in port.

Duncan, any suggestions on what could be done to solve, or at least alleviate the problem of wealth distribution? I don't think there's much disagreement here about that definitely being a substantial problem, but what can we DO about it, without going going communist or lopping off heads? What solutions do we have that don't unjustly infringe upon liberties?

Zepp, I've been disappointed in the media for a very long time. So many of our problems are exacerbated because most people don't have the time nor energy to thoroughly research even a fraction of the important stuff going on, and so they rely on the various news agencies to keep them informed, but those news agencies, for the most part, have long since abandoned trying to keep their viewership/readership actually informed with good information, and so many of our regular citizens just aren't getting the information they need to make informed decisions, and a lot of the information they're getting is distorted or outright false.

Perhaps we could put a call out to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine? Or some other law that requires news agencies, that bill themselves as news, to actually report the truth, and call out falsehoods, and any agency or show that doesn't must clearly identify themselves as opinion or entertainment, with no obligation to give true facts.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dragon

A wealth tax is needed -
Something that Piketty asks for in his book
He is a data wonk and he wanted a very low wealth tax just so that we could get a better handle on exactly how bad the situation is

That also ties in with Dr Brin's wealth register

On the News issue I would suggest tax on advertising - some of the money to be used for advertising free news and entertainment channels - like the BBC
PLUS the Fairness Doctrine

David Brin said...

Ilithi Dragon. Huh! Well this blog DOES attract top people. In 1972, with a low lottery number and a pending draft notice, and a pending Caltech physics degree, I did all the initial paperwork to become one of Rickover’s sub nuker fellahs. I would likely have either finished a novel earlier… or we’d have had one fewer submarine. Anyway, the draft board canceled the notice having violated my rights in an obscure way and then the war ended. But I always felt almost sorta one of you.

Duncan the portion of the “media’ that has felt free to call Trump what he is ? The comedy shows. Daily Show, Late Night, Full Frontal…

I’d love to reinstate the Fairness doctrine. Just five minutes of rebuttal for every 2 hours of raving on Fox would demolish them, leaving a smoking crater. It could happen if there were a HUGE congressional turnover PLUS at least two more DP Supreme Court appointees.

Duncan just creating another BBC/PBS won't do it. The confederates have created Nuremberg rallies and echo chambers. the Reds dismiss all contrary news as lefty propaganda and the journalism profession is one of their top enemies. The people in society trained to ask the most questions... after scientists.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

One of the major effects of the BBC is that with two TV channels that are completely advert free the rest of the channels in the UK keep their advertising under much better control
Too much advertising means they lose the audience

Here and in the USA it seems to have worked the other way and channels that don't have external advertising seem to have to put internal advertising in place to "match" the advertising channels

Overall this seems to mean just over twice as much advertising as the UK!

Not much help for the Red/Blue propaganda bit but it could make millions of people less grumpy

Paul SB said...

Ilithi Dragon,

I suspect that the wealth gap can be ratcheted back slowly with adjustments to tax policy, maybe making some changes to collective bargaining laws, and getting retirement/pensions the hell out of the stock market. No pogroms or communist revolution required.

Have you ever read James Alan Gardner's novel "Vigilant"? I don't imagine you get a lot of reading time on the Boat (dragon boat?). He has an interesting solution, but it is pure sic-fi, not something we could do today. He has a world in which the authorities are watch dover by a sort of police force called the Vigil, which under normal circumstances would become just as corrupt as any other power base. But all members of the Vigil have connection to a world wide data net implanted in their heads. These are set up to feed them facts relevant to whatever they are investigating. If your brain is being bombarded with the actual facts, it would become nearly impossible to ignore them or rationalize them away. Imagine what it would be like if all people who held office had this feature. No more climate denial, because they are all fed the same facts. They could quibble over ethics and implications all they like, but outright denial of the facts would no longer be possible. Just a speculation.

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duncan cairncross said...

Hi Paul

As far as ratcheting the wealth gap back is concerned the longer we leave it the more difficult it is going to be to slow or reverse the concentration

The more you have the easier it is to get even more - it's a positive feedback
AND that is before the rich started "cheating" by buying the government

David Brin said...

BTW I sometimes donate books to ship or boat libraries. I was appalled to learn there's no general program to do so... nor to Army base libraries! But if you provide an address some time (no hurry) I'm sure several of us would send small boxes along.

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Paul SB said...


As far as that ratcheting goes, a huge part of the problem is that too many people believe that any attempt to do so amounts to Communism, and even with the checks and balances system in the US government, big money got so big after WW 2 it has already corrupted the system. Having a dash cam equivalent in corporate board rooms might help, but then, the real wheeling and dealing would still happen off screen. Maybe we need to microchip and bug public officials - an invasion of privacy few would be willing to submit to, but the honor they would get might make it worthwhile for truly stalwart people.

Dr. Brin,

Books donated to military bases tend to end up mostly in the hands of dependents, which is not a bad thing. Base life for children is kind of strange. There is a research hospital called City of Hope near where I work that has a small library. A percentage of their patients are children, and several years ago a local Girl Scout troop arrange a program to donate children's books to their library. Maybe if you talk to your local Girl Scouts, they might be willing to make arrangements with local bases.

sociotard said...

An interesting article that touches on Climate Change, Transparency, Accountability, and respect for outsider points of view.

Scientists published climate research under fake names. Then they were caught.

Scientists who had a history of climate change skepticism published under pseudonyms because they figured any publisher would do a quick google search, see their, er, controversial not-in-a-scientific-journal arguments, and decide they'd be toxic to publish.

The paper isn't exactly a definitive "nuh uh" to decades of climate research, but it does provide a model that might be a quick and easy way to guess exoplanet surface temperature. And it doesn't include greenhouse gas concentration in the model, which is what makes it controversial.

greg byshenk said...

Alfred wrote:
Whether it is the original innovators or the cuckoos that kick them out and take over the nest benefiting in the first act, many plays are reaching act three now. The evidence for this is the collapsing number of people in the world living in extreme poverty. It isn’t charity or some other kind of service to humanity that is lifting them. They have accepted the Deal (at some level) and tolerate inequality as a result.
There seems to be some "slight of logic" here. Yes, the current model has in fact lifted many people out of poverty. And yes, in fact most people "accept[] the Deal", because it is, in effect, an offer they can't refuse.

The problem (and I am not the first to point this out, even in this discussion) is that there doesn't seem to be any necessary connection between the improvement to human life coming from innovation and current levels of inequality.

The thing about innovation is that, by and large, innovators do not innovate to become wealthy, or even for honour or other intangible results. Innovators innovate because they look at some problem and say: "you know, I think there's a better way to do that." Yes, some of them may make their fortune, or achieve some level of fame, at least within their community -- but that's not why they do things. And indeed they would continue to innovate regardless of whether or not they become wealthy.

What I can’t tolerate, though, is a broad-brush belief that the richest got there in a zero-sum fashion. Some did as Donzelion pointed out, but some did not.
I think you misread the argument. I don't think that anyone argues that all of the wealthy became so by cheating. Rather, the point is that becoming wealthy has only the most tenuous connection to innovation. Many who have become wealthy have done so by cheating, and, while some may have done so by innovation, hard work, etc., there are many others who have worked (and innovated) just as hard but have not.

Thus, the argument, "Even if extremes of inequality are less-than-ideal, we need to accept them in order to have the innovation and progress we want" might be compelling, if it were actually the case. But, at least so far as I can tell, it is not. Not only is it not a requirement for innovation and progress, but income and wealth inequality don't even serve particularly well as a reward for innovation and progress.

Acacia H. said...

Sometimes what we need is a long-term look at trends and patterns to get the point through.

xkcd went and did this chart showing how the climate has changed during mankind's existence. The kicker is the very bottom of the chart which shows just. how. quickly. things are warming up. This is the sort of thing to show to the Deniers. They will try to handwave it away, but this negates their claims about how fast things are warming now... compared to historical averages and norms. Including a brief period when grapes and the like could be grown in Britain. Which apparently took place when Britain was perhaps a tad cooler than it is today.

This is one that deserves to be on your above blog-post, Dr. Brin.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

I’ve tried to encourage some of the economics-minded people I know who currently side with the deniers to switch and try to co-opt their opponents. The pitch I give is one that says the science is good enough to get the economics right. Alas, I haven’t convinced anyone yet. The closest I came was miles away with a guy who pointed out the world is getting richer every year and the smarter investment was what David calls TWODA (mostly) while we worked on keeping the enrichment going. Essentially, our kids or their kids will be rich enough to solve the problems they face while the market will encourage sensible investments along the way. It’s hard to imagine our grandkids being rich enough to reverse acidification and methane burps, but my grandparents probably had a hard time as kids imagining men on the Moon. Sigh.

I can live with a carbon tax, but I’d rather not include CO2 emitters who are doing what nature does anyway. Mulch uses a decay process, so carbon removed from the atmosphere earlier in the year gets returned. If I got to draw the line, I’d look at the C14/C12 ratio of the CO2 emitted. Tax the carbon that has been in the ground for a very long time if one is going to tax any of it. (I can live with this kind of tax because it is an effort to resolve a negative externality the market won’t address.)

Regarding your LoJack system, it has been my experience that good ideas are fairly common. What we reward innovators for is having the courage to chase them successfully. A test-of-trade is a much more difficult achievement, so that’s why “that’s not how it works.” However, the world is a better place because you let it go. The worst arrangement for the poorest among us would have involved you saying nothing. You didn’t get filthy rich, but you DID make the world a better place. Thank you. 8)

donzelion said...

Oh, missed the Yucca Mountain discussion earlier's an interesting one because the science is fairly obvious, the security fairly obvious, and the cost/benefit obvious, and yet still failed to take hold - and the nation is at risk as a result.

The "10,000 years failure" claims were never anything but a pretext. Nevadans certainly NIMBYed it - but a remarkably large number of politicians from suburban districts had to balance the national interest in security against the local partisan interest in jobs (and a security contractor with appropriate clearances will add a few dozen/hundred jobs to a district...all of which will be filled by special security clearances...which are much cheaper/easier to obtain when dealing with folks whose families have been in the same house for generations...).

Yucca Mountain is a great illustration of the rest of environmental reasoning: one party argues reason (and science), another argues parochial interest.

-North Florida doesn't care if South Florida floods and if Miami falls off the map, any more than the industrial corridor in Louisiana cares if New Orleans becomes a ghost town.
-Landowners in the North Dakota-Texas 'red belt' couldn't care less if the coasts flood and Manhattan disappears.
-The more scientific consensus one musters, the less interest it will generate from that sector. Power operates differently when one benefits from maintaining it. To that extent, Dr. Brin's 'confederate' wording is apt (few Southerners who fought to defend slavery actually owned slaves, but they stood by the aristocrats who did and considered themselves heroes for doing so)

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: If the wealth was more evenly distributed then we would not need to worry so much about the income distribution.

Mmm… True. Instead I might worry about the people doing the leveling. However, if real incomes are raised (wages higher or prices lower or some combination) I don’t have to worry about the poor, the levelers, or the individual risk of falling for Envy.

The poorest among us live near the subsistence line of $3/day. They don’t have time to care about the influence the rich are buying, so they can’t contribute to our Enlightenment technique (division and competition between power blocs) for coping with inequality. Make it possible for them to be enriched and they might.

I know you’d rather not cope with inequality, but I am quite willing to do so because it is an acceptable consequence of the Deal that is eliminating impoverishment. When I was a kid, LBJ pushed his War on Poverty as a grand social cause. He got a lot of people to think carefully and try ideas. Most of them have been shown to be well-intentioned failures though not everything tried was part of his approach. There is one thing that DOES work, though. Creative destructions that survive fair tests of trade either lift wages or suppress prices or both. They increase real income. From what I’ve learned so far, they are the ONLY actions that win more than single battles in the war. Through them, we are winning LBJ’s war across the entire world. Not too shabby.

I can accept some inequality along the way, but I’ll look at particular golf buddies if enough social T-cells point at them and say they are dangerous. Maybe they are.

Alfred Differ said...

@Kal Kellevig: On other boards, I take the position that something has to be done about climate change, but we need to do things that don’t wind up returning us to the Stone Age. I’ve argued FOR taxes, carbon markets, and just about anything else tied to the negative externalities inherent in our energy markets. I’m willing to support introducing costs to things private parties usually try to shift to the public. I do this elsewhere, though, because no one here needs any convincing that climate change is a looming problem. In fact, I’ll rarely mention the climate here because David’s TWODA proposal is the “good enough” argument that would suffer from an attempt at perfection.

The people who point out that the world is getting richer and our kids or grandkids may be better suited to solve the real problems have a valid point, though. IF we do no better than TWODA and keep the enrichment going, we will have delivered a minimum necessary solution to our descendants. I’d like to do better, so while some people work on smacking the deniers, I work on the rabid supporters who don’t understand that their solutions are economically stupid. Some of them don’t get the science right either, instead believing in fear-fueled doom scenarios. Seriously! 20 meters of sea level rise in the near future?! Pfft. What’s coming is bad enough, but we can make it worse with bad economics.

Jumper said...

As far as I know, it's 1-2 meters sea level rise by 2100. That's godawful expensive. More than complete redesign and deployment of the energy systems. Doubling it would be at least twice as bad as what's going to happen already. Plus the other effects, such as ocean and rainfall effects.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
As you know I believe that the current level of inequality is now crushing innovation

As an example
When I was working at process improvement most of the good ideas came from the shop floor
Now after 40 years when the shop floor have NOT benefited from their good ideas but the 0.1% HAS benefited from those ideas I suspect that the
"Come on give me some good ideas it's for the benefit of all of us"
That I used to use would NOT be as fruitful
It takes years, decades for a cultural mindset to change - but it does change eventually and it will then take decades to regain the lost trust

Carbon, Climate change and "mulching"
I have a report on the carbon emissions from a modern landfill

Very interesting reading
With a modern landfill the best thing to do is to landfill - you get much less greenhouse gasses than from "green" activities like mulching
If you want to remove carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up for a couple of hundred years growing stuff and then land filling it is a pretty good way

Note - this is not grandad's old hole - this is talking about a proper landfill
I don't know how advanced the USA is on this - America seems to be sometimes at the cutting edge and at other times 50 years behind the times

Alfred Differ said...

The Deal is something they most certainly CAN refuse and historically speaking, they often have. Many people believed that merchants who got rich did so by making someone else poor. Even a weakly educated Christian would know which sin that is. Though the language of game theory didn’t exist until recently, most of humanity believed markets were zero-sum and had good reasons to justify their beliefs. It wasn’t until the 17th century among the Dutch and 18th century among the English and then the Scots that we had a clue that this long standing belief was mistaken. Many in the educated clade continued to miss it until well into the 19th century.

The no-choice scenario you describe isn’t about the Deal. It’s about geopolitics. In 1978, China effectively accepted the Deal. India did the same in 1991. Both can back out or ratchet back how accepting they are, but while they hold to it, impoverishment will shrink for a large percentage of humanity. The choice they both had was to be left further in the dust facing famines and political disorder. For geopolitical reasons, that is not tenable when your neighboring countries have chosen enrichment. So I don’t see this as a sleight of logic. I see it from a different perspective.

The thing about innovation is that, by and large, innovators do not innovate to become wealthy, or even for honour or other intangible results.

That’s fine, but I’m not concerned about the innovations that don’t show up in the market. I draw attention to trade-tested innovations as they are the ones that tend to have the largest impact on productivity and prices. I also make a distinction between the innovator who can be displaced and their innovation which can get stolen and/or stifled. If we are interested in helping the poor, we should be mostly interested in productivity gains and price reductions and less in the personal motives of innovators.

If someone wants to innovate and not get rich, we can safely smile at them and wish them well. I might prefer they tried for wealth, but it is their choice. Jumper let his Lo-Jack go and that’s fine. It is the people who want to get rich, though, that have historically drawn sneers. Back when everyone thought the world was zero-sum, they got worse than sneers, but sneers were enough to discourage innovators from trying anything at all. Where would the world be if people like Jumper thought it best not to surpass their parents and grandparents? Where would the poor be? There are about 1 billion people at the original subsistence line or lower today, but this generation has reason to believe they don’t have to stay there.

I think you misread the argument.
Possible. I think it is more likely that I see a problem with an assumption in the argument.

Alfred Differ said...

greg.byshenk: (cont’d)

Rather, the point is that becoming wealthy has only the most tenuous connection to innovation.

Heh. Tell that to my friends and their friends in the tech industry. They often have a mental list of the cheaters. If we collected them all and formed the intersection list, some names would be on every one. If instead we formed a union list, we’d probably have everyone in the industry except (perhaps some of) the low level paper pushers.

You are missing the point like many do about enrichment, though. Innovators who choose not to pursue money are being enriched another way and obviously prefer it. When I thanked Jumper for his part of Lo-Jack, I wasn’t trying to waste electricity. My little thank-you might not mean much to him, but when his social network consistently does the same, it WILL matter to him. As far as I’m concerned, innovation is cool. Trade tested innovation is super-cool, but that’s not for everyone. For some, being cool is good enough.

Thus, the argument, "Even if extremes of inequality are less-than-ideal, we need to accept them in order to have the innovation and progress we want...

As a paraphrasing, that is close to my argument, but a little off. Extremes of inequality ARE less than ideal, but they are a consequence of the Bourgeois Deal. Try to fix them and there are unintended consequences for what is otherwise a Good Deal. I’m not saying we must make no attempt at fixes, though. I’m arguing that we have to be very careful and beware of the old tradition of sneering at merchants because that old tradition has a faulty assumption. The world of trade-tested betterments isn’t zero-sum, so the people involved aren’t necessarily sinning. The connection between progress and wealth inequality is troublesome, but the benefit we get from progress is so massive, that I urge caution. Swat at mosquitoes with something smaller than nukes, please.

Alfred Differ said...

In their defense, 1 meter is very different from 2 meters and the higher number looks fishy in the face of a relatively mild prediction for the next solar cycle. It winds up looking a bit like one side of the community doesn’t know what the other side is predicting and the non-science zealots providing political support are cherry-picking the worst combination of them all. The deniers aren't the only cherry-pickers out there.

Sea level rise is godawful expensive no matter what the predicted rise is, but it must be measured against the depreciation costs of our coastal assets that would occur without rising seas. If the seas rise slowly enough, we are going to be replacing assets along the way and our markets will cause asset prices to adjust slowly to reflect the risks. Near where hurricanes make landfall, one can face sudden flooding risks complicated by rising seas, but we already cope with the financial impacts of hurricanes. A case could be made that underwriters will adjust to slow change without any regulatory help.

I’d prefer some of the conservatives made a move to co-opt the climate change ‘movement’ in order to insert sensible economic theory. If they made an honest attempt, I suspect we would see the movement fracture. Deniers would still deny, of course, but would-be socialists might get left out of the policy making bloc too. That would be a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "It takes years, decades for a cultural mindset to change - but it does change eventually and it will then take decades to regain the lost trust"

There's that old joke from the Soviet Union: "The state pretends to be paying us, so we're pretending to work".
That joke can very easily be transferred to a capitalist society: "The inbred morons at the top of the company pretend to be paying us decent wages, so we're pretending to do decent work". Not giving worthwhile reward to the bottom of the hierarchy for their time and effort doesn't simply stifle innovation, it also wrecks productivity.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Before the Reagan era, they disagreed pretty strongly on segregation issues, but I prefer or rosy view where we try to forget that past trauma and move on to our current trauma. 8)

However, I would be much more cautious, especially regarding very large businesses. It’s not about jealousy, it’s the much greater harm a large business abusing the kind of technology we have had since the Chemical Age can do.

No problem. That is a good enlightenment attitude. All concentrations of power are potentially dangerous. I recall my parents selling their Union Carbide stock when I was young and why they did it. Don’t forget the jealousy/envy angle, though. Some people are motivated that way and can’t admit it even to themselves.

…but also in part because we are putting things on the market without really knowing what the consequences are, and large-scale businesses have built-in motivation to hide what they know if a product looks good but the consequences might be serious.

Mmm… True. I have two issues with this, though. When haven’t we put things on the market without really knowing the consequences? Large scale businesses have such motivations because small scale humans do. When will that ever change?

I get that the consequences of error are larger now, but I also think we are more motivated to catch error than we were in the past. Our social standards have been changing even if our psychological standards haven’t. When was the last time a rich nation’s citizenry pursued war for the glory of it? The consequences got very large in the 19th century as seen in our Civil War and the World Wars brought it home to everyone. We’ve managed to change on a social level since then.

The problem is that there are no universals that earn honor.

You listed some good examples that work for certain clades, but you also provided the answer David mentioned in his Transparency book. Catching the cheaters is what changes the game. Since we are heading into a world of more cameras, microphones, and software with vulnerabilities, we are heading into a world were more of the cheaters CAN be caught. Will we actually catch them? It all depends on whether they can close off the ports we use to watch them. The more difficulty they have doing so and the more we watch, the more they must flex their game strategy to cover the risks of being caught.

They have become their own social class, our aristocracy of money, and they behave like any aristocrats do…

No. Don’t confuse the Haute Bourgeois with the Aristocracy. Given a chance, some among the former will migrate to the latter, but they aren’t the same. The difference is whether or not they have enough control to manage coercive forces. The former are annoying, but not much of a danger if they can’t coerce you. They can all be criminals, but only the latter justify our acting upon the temptation to increase our sanction of the use of force.

Alfred Differ said...

@Laurent Weppe: True, but ask yourself why someone would voluntarily accept a job like the ones you describe. Why would I want to work for inbred morons when I could compete with them instead and squash them like the bugs they are?

If one doesn't have a choice, then those inbred morons have control over coercive forces. THAT is what must be addressed.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: (cont’d #2)
They are following exactly that pattern Veblen described in the 19th Century. To them, owning and displaying illegal things displays their greater wealth. For them, that is social honor.

Aristocratic displays of courage in acquiring those trophies are required if the thieves want to be accepted among the Nobles. Thieves are a different class usually treated as quite vulgar by the real aristocrats. Besides, in a transparent world (software vulnerabilities in their security systems) the odds go up that these thieves will be caught. The real aristos will know and exploit that.

I prefer the value system used by the bourgeoisie mostly, so don’t worry about me defending thieves and nobles because I’m not. I’m defending a social system that enriches the poor and happens to have some annoying side-effects exploited by thieves and nobles. I’d rather deal with the side-effect memes individually, but since so few people understand the enriching system (even though they live within it), I accept some universal inefficiencies as motivation to improve education.

If the board rooms of companies had an equivalent to the police car’s dash cam – one the execs can’t switch off at whim – you might start to see the honor equation changing.

They already do. Software vulnerabilities exist (most likely) on every device in the room. Avoiding them will require directors to resort to low-tech meetings. Whether you watch the meeting live or pilfer their email later, there is a very real risk they won’t be able to keep a lid on their activities for much longer.

Tim H. said...

Alfred, for some of the .01%, it's not a side effect, it really is class warfare. I think I'll reserve further comment until the new civil war topic comes up again, this seems related.

Paul SB said...


down with flu, have to work for inbred morons in the morning. No owl emulation tonight. Maybe not until the weekend.

Will say this - the Haute Bourgeois are America's aristocracy. US has no true aristocrats, but HB filled niche back in 19th C. They didn't call them Robber Barons for nothing. Plenty of coercive power in money. Money rents Congress & local officials, high-quality lawyers, propaganda networks, scabs & goons. For most people, their power over jobs is enough. Most people have children for a big chunk of their lives & can't afford to risk employment. Talk to someone who has been out of work since 2007.

I like where technology is taking us, but for every measure there's countermeasures. Never versions of the attorney shuffling papers loudly next to the court recorder's microphone.

donzelion said...

@Alfred - "Aristocratic displays of courage in acquiring those trophies are required if the thieves want to be accepted among the Nobles."

Aristocratic displays of courage typically involve bravely ordering non-aristocrats to go out and put their lives on the line.

"Thieves are a different class usually treated as quite vulgar by the real aristocrats."
Most aristocrats view other aristocrats with a degree of disdain at best. Disputes over rival claims for turf can simmer for centuries under the oligarchy, lacquered with 'respect.'

"Besides, in a transparent world (software vulnerabilities in their security systems) the odds go up that these thieves will be caught."
So long as one of them isn't elected president...steal $100, you're a thief. Steal $1 mill, you're a really good thief. Steal $1 billion, and you're a smart businessman - even if that money came from stealing $100 many, many times...

But this one makes me pause and chuckle:

"Whether you watch the meeting live or pilfer their email later, there is a very real risk they won’t be able to keep a lid on their activities for much longer."
Almost everything that goes on in the corporate board room is intended for public disclosure - at some point. The issue is the timing; corporate boards make their decisions knowing that once disclosed, the decision will affect many pieces in any play they have contemplated once it becomes known.

Superhero anarchist hackers might conduct industrial espionage on a vast scale, changing the time scale - but I'm not holding my breath for any superheroes. Besides, assuming the hackers like having a home, food, etc., the best of them will be more likely to work for those same corporate backers as against them.

Kal Kallevig said...

Alfred Differ

On other boards, I take the position that something has to be done about climate change, but we need to do things that don’t wind up returning us to the Stone Age.
The people who point out that the world is getting richer and our kids or grandkids may be better suited to solve the real problems have a valid point, though. IF we do no better than TWODA and keep the enrichment going, we will have delivered a minimum necessary solution to our descendants.

TWODA strikes me as an obvious starting point but I think it is not nearly enough, or maybe a better way to say it is that we are not doing those things; talking about them is the full extent of our action, talk, talk, talk,

It appears to me that pursuit of BAU has a significant chance of, using your terminology, "returning us to the Stone Age", and that relatively quickly. If that turns out to be wrong, fine leave it to the next generations.

OTOH, if instead of "the world getting richer", it turns out we have been eating the seed corn and the world is just about tapped out on resources available to alleviate climate change it wont really matter which theory was wrong.

The downside potential is the end of this comfortable existence of ours, so lets proceed much more rapidly doing what we ought to do anyway. Buildings can be built or retrofitted to use way less energy. Transportation wastes huge amounts of energy, solutions are available that use way less and are easily powered by the sun. There is no need to wait on our kids and grandkids, solutions are available.

When you talk about wealth and riches, the only meaningful currencies are energy and other natural resources. If we had an infinite supply of those things it might be acceptable to leave it to our descendants. But the high EROEI fossil fuel is going fast and it is the seed corn for our renewable future.

DavidWerth said...


Regarding sea level rise it could be that we have 20 meters of it baked in already. The last time CO2 was 400 ppm sea level was over 20 meters higher than it is today. It will most likely take several centuries for that much rise to happen but it could be a done deal. The latest IPCC report says 1-2 meters by 2100 but that's based on things continuing the way they have been. As James Hansen recently pointed out there have been non-linear sea level rises of several feet in the past. While there is less ice to melt now than in the past if something like the West Antarctic Ice Sheet goes into a catastrophic collapse we could have sea level rise measured in feet in a decade. Chances are that won't happen but it can't be ruled out.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, let's see…the usual finger-waggings about the Carbon excursion that nobody cares about alongside details of yet more travel plans. I suppose you are walking everywhere you need to go, to limit your Carbon excursion? What, no? Not leading by example? Well golly gee I wonder why the Carbon excursion continues, given the fine example set by you jet-setters. Ooh, and calling folks traitors and cultists! Well now if anything that will certainly attract all types into your tent. Yep. What a fine specimen of the blinkered liberal élite!

Ilithi Dragon said...

Why is it only those who hide their face who launch the vicious personal attacks and defamation of character? No criticism of argument, counter point or refuting reasoning or evidence, just pure ad hominem. And inaccurate, at that.

Dr. Brin, our boat does maintain a small library, which does get used on deployment. I'll get the boat's address and post it up later today.

Jumper said...

That was rather stupider than normal from Anonymous; a significant amount so if it's the apparent New York bicyclist. Foul manners and a hypocrite to boot.

LarryHart said...


Ooh, and calling folks traitors and cultists! Well now if anything that will certainly attract all types into your tent. Yep. What a fine specimen of the blinkered liberal élite!

Looked in the mirror lately?

A.F. Rey said...

Regarding the Senate races, FiveThirtyEight has its Senate Forecast up and running, if you want to keep track of what their estimates are.

They're currently predicting a 57% chance of the Democrats taking the Senate next term, although the Gaussian curve is just about centered on the 50/50 column further down.

donzelion said...

DavidWerth - "Regarding sea level rise it could be that we have 20 meters of it baked in already."

A possibility that causes inland property owners to salivate; the threat of sea levels rising to inundate Wall Street is a wet dream for the Tea Party set.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Forgot to grab the boat's mailing address before I left for the day (we had an admiral visiting today, so everyone was a bit distracted), but I can share a real-world example of reciprocal accountability in action.

See, in the Navy, and especially in the sub force, we already practice reciprocal accountability, and have for a long time. We just have a different name for it. We call it "watch team back-up." The Navy learned a long time ago that people make mistakes. Good, honest, knowledgeable people make honest mistakes, because they get distracted, or misread something, or transpose a number, or get rushed, or are juggling multiple tasks, get tired, or just make an honest derp mistake. The Navy also has to deal with people who get lazy or take short cuts, and even the best sailors can fall to bad habits or take bad shortcuts. Plus, there are some remarkably stupid people out in the world, and many of them manage to find their way into the military.

To help combat that problem, the Navy very strongly stresses, at all levels, watch team back-up. Especially on subs, where, because of the nature of our operating environment, mistakes have that much greater of a risk of disrupting the mission, or costing lives. So we are actively encouraged to provide back-up to each other, including forceful back-up when necessary. We tie that in with a complimentary system called point-read-operate, where we point at whatever valve/switch/lever/etc. we're going to operate, read it's labeled nomenclature, and then operate it, thus maximizing the opportunity for others around us to provide watch team back-up.

This is Dr. Brin's reciprocal accountability in action, coupled with a dash of transparency (point-read-operate), and it works! It works very well! Strict point-read-operate (that dash of transparency) can be annoying and frustrating, and it does add a certain additional amount of time to carrying out tasks, but it is absolutely vital, because taking that extra time for point-read-operate helps the person carrying out the task catch their own mistakes, because it requires them to go through extra verification steps, and it gives others around them the ability to provide back-up because they can watch and see and hear what that person is doing, allowing them to jump in and stop someone if they see a mistake about to happen.

I fully expect that properly implementing transparency to allow reciprocal accountability is going to be frustrating, annoying, and an added hassle that a lot of people aren't going to like, and that will cause a certain amount of bogging down the flow of operations. There will be a lot of push-back against it, and any bureaucracy that goes along with it, not just from the people who want the shadows to cover their cheating and criminal activities, but from the people who get annoyed and frustrated by the extra hassle of the whole transparency system, and people who hate any added bureaucracy that goes along with it, but as with the Navy and our use of point-read-operate and stressing of watch team back-up, that added hassle and frustration will be minuscule compared to the time, energy, hassle, work, and lives that it saves through its prevention and catching of mistakes, crimes, and disasters.

You'll also probably get a better selling of the idea to military types, at least those affiliated with the Navy, if you add in the use of the term "watch team back-up" when discussing or pitching transparency and reciprocal accountability with/to them.

occam's comic said...

Hey Dr. Brin,

I would like to ask a favor from you.
You have said in the past that you know several people who are skilled climate modelers and/or climatologists. And sense i haven't seen climate change discussed in a way that is similar to how I have been thinking about climate change, I was hoping that you might ask them a few questions and get a little feedback from them.

1) Is the temperature difference between the equator and the poles a critical variable in the climate system? (everything i have read says that it is the temperature difference that powers the climate.)

2) Do they agree that the northern hemisphere is more sensitive to climate change?
( the average temperature difference in the northern hemisphere is ~40 degrees C, southern hemisphere ~70 degrees C, north pole warming faster than any other place on the planet, the positive feedback loops in the arctic)

3) as the temperature difference between the north pole and equator is reduced how does the climate in the northern hemisphere respond? Does the three cell atmospheric system break down when the temperature difference falls below a critical value?

I am just hoping for some CITOKATE from some professionals.

David Brin said...

Ilithi Dragon that was a super description of Naval procedure and it helps explain why your service is the one that I deem more "adult" than any others. You simply cannot - (notwithstanding tailhook flyboys) - afford for macho preening to overcome competence. It's why, despite my having (by a twist of fate) never served, I call the Navy "my" service. I woulda worked for Rickover... and did, in parallel worlds.

Oh, it's "complementary" not with an "i". I want you to be persuasive!

Please email me with the address of your boat by going to and clicking the contact place at the bottom.

And thanks. Your service is appreciated almost as much as your competence and citizenship.

David Brin said...

Occam... sorry. Very rushed at the moment.

1) yes. The poles are especially sensitive. Changing faster than the tropics.

2) The northern hemisphere has less ocean to absorb and moderate heat.

3) There is less pressure at middle latitudes to keep the polar vortex "polar."

David Brin said...