Saturday, October 15, 2016

As we move forward...

Just returned from giving speeches about artificial Intelligence and other fututure wonders/fears, for GE and Viacom. But there's time to squeeze in - for the weekend - a posting that's not  about the U.S. political civil war.  And hence...

Lest the media's obsession with bad news suggest that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues in an interview that things have actually gone a lot better over recent centuries, and at an accelerating pace. "A shift in the summum bonum, or the highest good, towards loose humanism, where life is better than death, education better than ignorance, health better than sickness," he says, "is what I believe we are seeing currently."

Why do more highly educated people veer toward liberalism? The Pew Research Center recently released a study showing that nearly a third of those who went to graduate or professional school maintain liberal views on social, economic and environmental matters, whereas this is true for just one in 10 Americans generally. "An additional quarter of postgrads have mostly liberal views. These numbers reflect drastic change: While professionals have been in the Democratic column for a while, in 1994 only 7 percent of postgrads held consistently liberal political opinions,” reports Neil Gross in The New York Times.

This might have been interesting as the introduction to an article about the topic. But the article failed to explore this thread in more depth.Though one thing is clear -- highly educated people are more cognizant of time horizons that encompass a recognition of change.  

The world was different in the past. That is not just a reason for nostalgia but also for recognition that change will continue. (The kind  of disruptive change that makes science fiction by far the most pertinent literature of our era.)

Liberalism is an attempt to harness and steer change. Hence it is not leftist per se... Marx thought that steering history was futile!  It is this belief that we can refashion ourselves and society using tools of discourse and/or science that makes the educated liberal.

Well... yes... compassion and empathy, too. But it is no accident that free enterprise, markets, entrepreneurship - all desiderata that supposedly the right cares about - do far better when liberals are managing the state. Sorry, it is a blatant and overwhelming fact, Jack.

== Looking to the Future ==

'Vessel' by Heatherwick Studios
Escher comes alive? An amazing concept for a structure to be built in New York’s Hudson Yards development. “Named ‘Vessel’, the interactive structure by Thomas Heatherwick is intended to be climbed, explored, and experienced. comprising 154 interconnecting flights of stairs.” Fascinating conceptual design.  And yet, I have to wonder about disabled access.  

And why each of the 80 landings could not subtly vary in theme?  Perhaps with gardens or planters or nano-display spaces for artists or science quirks? Sure, the architect would hate the “clutter.”  But there will be an elevator. Know that. And a spiral descent ramp. Two of them.  One for wheelchairs and one for skateboarders! I know how it could be done without much clutter.

The Journal of Posthuman Studies is a fully peer reviewed, multidisciplinary journal developed to analyze what it is to be human in an age of rapid technological, scientific, cultural and social evolution. Editors include James Hughes, University of Massachusetts, late of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. 

How does science free us from delusions? Reposted online, this podcast originally aired on February 14, 2013. Sci-fi author, David Brin, is the final guest in the Mendelspod series, Creating the Future. He says that everyone -- that civilization -- is creating the future. However, he concedes that if you were to compare civilization to a human brain, that "a few of us are the pre-frontal lobes . . . who poke sticks in the sand, in the trail ahead of us that we're charging into so that we can find the quicksand pits . . . before we step right into them." Quoth the Mendelspod folks: “Brin is an actor as well as writer and scientist. You're bound to be captivated by his command of science, history, politics, and by his entertaining wit.”

Some of the topics in this wide-ranging podcast:
 0:47 Who's doing the heavy lifting of creating the future?
 8:13 Imagination the great tragedy and boon of human nature
11:24 Science one of the four great pillars that freed us from the "Great Delusion"
15:35 When did you go from astronomer to writer?
24:23 Where are we going in the life sciences?
27:13 A contrarian on immortality
33:00 Renunciation, stopping the forward rush of science
37:46 "The American Revolution stuns me."
40:55 BONUS: The author reads from Existence

== Tools for the future ==

Looking toward a better future... education reformer Marc Prensky has an interesting new book out from Teachers College Press: Education to Better Their World: Unleashing the Power of 21st Century Kids.  “Marc Prensky offers us a lucid, inspiring, optimistic, doable, and crucial blueprint for how we can build a future with the schools that children desperately need.”

The Fidget Cube. This cube offers useless buttons designed to keep your hands busy. It seems to have struck a nerve... They asked for $15,000 on Kickstarter and got $6 million. Two more days to get one...

Wow… I’ve become pretty good at Power Point… it helps with half of my livelihood.  Still, this new Slidebot tool takes things to a new level, using quasi AI to find images on the web suitable for whatever text you are typing. Yeah. cue Twilight zone music.  But I intend to try it.  And you can export those slides into Power Point  or other familiar systems.

== not about the election! ==

The California legislature and Gov. Brown just approved legislation requiring a conviction prior to asset forfeiture. 

I often hold up California as the dynamic leader in U.S. governance… e.g having the best election laws in the country, that have reduced radical partisanship, encouraging pragmatism and negotiation and yes, even with the minority of moderate republicans. It helps that Gov. Jerry Brown – while liberal and dynamic and busy, is also skeptical of meddlesome over-reach for its own sake. He vetoes pretty often. All told, California is an utter refutation of the Foxite song that “divided government that does nothing is best.” Idiots. 

And yet… here’s a bill Jerry shoulda trashed. California's new 'Sale of Autographed Memorabilia' law requires a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) for any signed item worth more than $5. Failure to issue the COA could make the seller liable for ten times the value in damages. This will be hard on booksellers.... though I imagine it was targeted at Sports Memorabilia and Movie schlock and books may get a pass. 

The law is dumb and troglodytic. If provenance is a problem, some piece of paper won't solve it. Instead, take a PICTURE each time you sign an item and file the jpeg using a correlation app that will find that specific item by the shape of your signature - different each time! Much easier to do and to comply with the law and it can actually work! Correlating and verifying. Best of all it is not a stone-age 20th century "solution." Dingbats.

Fortunately, this is California. The law will be amended next year. Then amended again till the public and stakeholders care too little to make much noise. It is called real, functioning democracy. Democrats do it. Imperfectly! And it helps to have a Jerry Brown!

What this kind of bill demonstrates is that the Democratic-Republican divide is not left-vs-right… dems often DE-regulate much more than GOPpers do. 

No, it is manic-vs-depressive. The Democratic run CA legislature rushes about in a frenzy, adapting the state's laws to 21st Century conditions (it’s their job!), then modifying the modifications under comment/complaint from citizens and companies… then getting more feedback in public hearings and modifying again… Busy, busy, busy. And sometimes drawing vetoes from the liberal-but-pragmatic chief executive. (For the most part, it's good or neutral stuff.) Sure, manic is vexing, sometimes, like this silly autograph bill. 

But we move forward. Unlike the depressive side, as the Republicans have made 20 of the last 22 years of the U.S. Congress utterly useless, unable to pass even a basic budget! Unable to hold hearings about pressing matters or even issue subpoenas… except In pathetically partisan-nonsensical witch hunts. The nastiest but above-all laziest Congresses in U.S. history. Except for trillions of gushing tax gifts to the rich, and awful wars, can you name any accomplishments? 

Sorry.  Politics again. I yearn for an odd numbered year.


Alfred Differ said...

Heh. With $6M to play with, I hope they make a bigger version of the Fidget Cube. It should have a few shiny, reflective objects on it that show fingerprints so we can swipe and polish them to keep them clean.

Jon Roth said...

Incendiary, but worth a read

Paul451 said...

Pilger's always been a "useful idiot". An example of why the left fail so often and so utterly.

Tacitus said...

"Mostly" non politics. Just my cue to pick up a hefty, well balanced stick, wind up and take a smack at what I expect will be a particularly energetic nest of hornets.

I despise Power Point. (cue cresendo of hostile, high pitched buzzing)

Yes, it can be done well or poorly. Yes, the modern generation lives much of their intellectal life in that tiny sliver of interface that is the screen of whatever device they have in front of them. Yes, I am a self admitted - and damned proud to say it - curmudgeon.

I have endured, often with poor grace, far too many continuing medical education lectures where a speaker stands at a podium looking down at his or her information while the same data is up on a screen. The focus of the speaker is towards the floor. The focus of the audience is up over the speakers right shoulder. There is little to no direct engagement.

Even "bullet points" that tell the audience what the most important stuff is annoy me. It might be important to the speaker, or important in some contexts, but is it what I find most important? This is not information being put forward for consideration and thought. It is files being transferred from one storage system to another.

I do give talks on occasion. I pick my subject matter well, no point blathering about matters where I am faking it. I don't use Powerpoint. Or written notes. Or a podium.

I stand as close as I can to the front row of the audience. I direct my gaze and voice towards individual audience members sequentially. I pace around, make them track me back and forth. I put a very high priority on not having a monotone delivery. At its best a lecture should be framed in the speech patterns and syntax of a fascinating, lively, perhaps even contentious discussion.

It is not a skill that everyone has naturally. Most people can attempt it and all can improve with practice. For the high school kids I am working with now I set periodic, unannouced challenges. "You have two minutes to work on an extemporaneous message. Give me a 30 second pitch in favor of funding our FIRST robotics team. The setting is a busy employer in a very noisy machine shop. Time starts NOW."

Obsolete skills. Sure. But not without uses. I have at various times in my checkered past been a Carny, done a regular feature for local TV news, spoken at the Baseball Hall of Fame, etc. No damn Power Point for me.

Tacitus, minion of Ludd

Paul SB said...

Oh Minion of Ludd,

I get what you are saying about PowerPoint. It is mostly a means for talking AT people rather than conversing WITH people. As such, it is far inferior in terms of the quality of interaction, hands down. But that's not the purpose of PowerPoint. The software is made to convey information to people who don't have it, in a way that is much faster than reading the latest technical journals on the subject. It is a lecture tool, not a seminar tool. Now just about anyone who has an active mind will take the seminar over the lecture any day, because a seminar is a conversation. You build much better understanding when you interact than when you are merely lectured at. Obviously some people do lecture better than others, and you clearly have the right idea. When I lecture I use PowerPoint, but I also mile with my students and interact. Powerpoint allows me to show pictures, which get that important visual component (only about 1/3rd of people are auditory learners, so lecture-heavy classes put the other 2/3rds at a disadvantage).

Ultimately, though, it comes down to scale. You can lecture to a crowd of 30 students or to thousands of people in an auditorium. How many people can you pack into a seminar before it goes all wobbly and no one gets anything out of it? In my experience, much past 15 and the more conversational mode of a seminar becomes a useless waste of time. And a seminar is not good for much if the participants don't know anything worth discussing. So you have to build their knowledge up to a certain level before seminar becomes an effective tool for learning.

I imagine you could deliver a PowerPoint lecture far better than most people who were raised on PowerPoint, and you might find it useful, too. I don't know anything about robotics, but I'm sure that a visual component should be helpful in some way to your students.

LarryHart said...


Mostly" non politics. Just my cue to pick up a hefty, well balanced stick, wind up and take a smack at what I expect will be a particularly energetic nest of hornets.

I despise Power Point. (cue cresendo of hostile, high pitched buzzing)

Tacitus, I fail to understand why you continually expect opposition to positions that I think many reasonable-minded posters here will agree with, even heartily. I don't think anyone has an emotional attachment to PowerPoint. It is what it is--ubiquitous in the office world, but who is in love with the office world? You're expecting fierce chivalry in defense of a Microsoft product?

P.P. is fine as a replacement for meticulously drawing images by hand. It's a tool. But unless the presentations themselves are made interesting, fancy pictures only make a boring presentation into a boring multi-sensory presentation.

More generally, I can understand fending off charges of smug self-assurance by starting off with a disclaimer, but you're among friends here, and overdoing the "every hand is against me" thing is not productive. I speak from experience. It took me too many decades to learn that beginning a pitch with "You probably don't want to hire me, but...", or "You probably don't want to voter for me, but...", or "You probably don't want to go out with me, but..." is not the way to sell yourself or your position.

As far as luddism, well, there is not a binary choice between "hating and fearing technology" and "not believing that every aspect of human life should take place in a computer." I have my skepticism of computer dating (millions swear by it, though), and really don't think computerized voting is a good idea. That doesn't mean I don't want personal jet-packs and flying cars. :)

Tacitus said...


I was engaging in a bit of unserious banter. I don't really expect to take much heat on that topic. Ubiquitous things are just more fun to rail against.

Paul SB.

Good point on scaleablity. The same methods that work for 30 would never work for 3000. I am certain that you have more experience in this sort of thing than I.


LarryHart said...


Oh, I see. I was deaf to your subtle irony.

Carry on. :)

Paul SB said...


On my professional experience, you are right, though it isn't exactly the experience I dreamed of as a growing larva, way back when! : /

You might have confused Larry less if you threw in more of those smiley face thingies, since we don't have non-verbal cues to work with in Anti-Ludd-Space. He has great instincts, though, in terms of his natural desire to offer aid to his fellow hominid.

A used copy of a book arrived in my mail Friday, titled "Survival of the Nicest." I am looking forward to skimming it over and wishing I had the to actually read the thing... : (

Uh-oh, my Inner Eeyore surfaces again...

Anonymous said...

Lest the warbling of the plucky Pinker from atop the steam-roller of progress enthrall, do note that the view held will vary depending on whether one is atop that pilot-house of progress (gosh! wow!), or is more likely located near the exhaust port (*cough* *hack*) or worse, as the Iroqui put it, placed in front of whichever direction that steam-roller happens to be progressing at the time. In related news, followers of Nassim Taleb did nominate Pinker for the award: "most representative of the Intellectual Yet Idiot class".

Unknown said...

I've never actually used PowerPoint, but back in the bad old days of the '80s I had to put together a slide presentation so that one of the officers in our section could explain to some of the older flag officers exactly why Force Deconfliction is such an important field when planning nuclear war (you'd be amazed at what can set off a nuke once it's been armed - anything from debris to the neutron flux from a nearby explosion). Knowing the audience, I tried to keep the illustrations simple yet eye-catching, and made sure to include the bullet points they were certainly looking for. (Didn't get individual feedback on the project, but that year we got the Outstanding Unit Award, and I like to think that contributed somewhat...)

Yes, I can see where the format could easily be misused where it doesn't even remotely belong, because it looks like it should be so easy to communicate information. Except that far too often, usually because of a mismatch between the expectations of the presenter and the audience, it serves almost as much as a barrier to communications.

Unknown said...

Oh, and a question for our obsessed anonymous contributor:

If you're going to insist on referring to the Iroquois Confederacy with that French word, why can you not bring yourself to add the final "s"? And if you're going to remain obsessed with them, why not refer to them with their own name, the Rotinonsionni (that is, the name in Mohawk, the official language of the Great League of Peace)?

Yes, I will concede it's easier to type "Iroquois" (or even "Iroquoi) than "Rotinonsionni", but if you think their philosophies are superior to ours, isn't their language, in which those philosophies are conveyed, superior as well?

LarryHart said...

As Batman's Commissioner Gordon once put it, "A thought strikes me, so frightening I scarce dare give it utterance!"

I was trying to explain to a teenager for whom 9/11 (2001) predates her birth how to understand just how long ago it was since the Cubs won a World Series. That moment in 1908 is actually temporally closer to the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr than it is to the present time.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I am looking forward to skimming it over and wishing I had the to actually read the thing... : (

Well don't just keep us in suspense! Wish you had the what to actually read the thing?

Brain cells?
Reading comprehension level?

Inquiring minds want to know. :)

Greg Hullender said...

@Jon Roth I looked at the article, but it's just a Russian propaganda piece. It points to why it's so important to elect Hillary next month; God help us if we end up with a Russian puppet as president.

Ilithi Dragon said...

To tag on a conversation from the previous thread, Locum is a bit more than even 2% right, and he brings up a very good, salient, and important point that the Left often neglects or ignores, and that is the issue of equality in sexual consent laws. Because consent is a two-way street, and it is a 100% fair and valid criticism to take issue with the law saying that women who get drunk being considered unable to give consent for sex, and so would have a valid claim to make for being raped, while making no such consideration for MEN who get drunk. There is also the concern of women (and men!, assuming a gender-equal application of the law) giving proper consent and then later crying rape. Studies have shown that this is pretty rare - for example, the information we were given during sexual assault/harassment/consent training when I went through boot camp is that studies have shown that 97% of the time, the claim is real and valid, and only about 3% of the time is it not. HOWEVER, while false claims of rape/sexual assault are pretty rare, and extreme care should be taken to not blame the victim or accuse the victim of making false claims, the fact that false claims are made CANNOT be dismissed or ignored. Because the effects of a sexual assault or rape charge are devastating to people's lives and careers, regardless of whether the charge is real or fabricated. Just as care must be taken to not blame the victim or dismiss their claims as false charges, care must also be taken to not ruin somebody's life with false charges, while also recognizing and understanding that 97% of the time, the charges are real.

It is also worth noting that Locum went out of his way to specifically clarify that he does not support or advocate violence against women or anyone, because he knew that what he had to say could be taken the wrong way, and he wasn't wrong about that.

Locum, where you veered into the realm of error, and why what you had to say can so easily be taken as support for Trump's words and actions, and support for a culture of sexual harassment and dominance of women in general (aka "rape culture"), is that you completely fail to distinguish between restriction and infringement of absolute free will, and the willful choice to engage in RESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOR, and the willful choice to socially interact with other people with politeness, courtesy, and respect. You conflate the choice to behave in this manner with a brainwashed restriction of absolute freedom.

Ilithi Dragon said...


Like others have described here, I myself make a CONSCIOUS effort to not stare and gape at women in public, not just because society finds it unseemly, but more importantly because it is disrespectful to that other person. When out and about in general, and particularly in a professional environment, I make the conscious choice to not engage in flirtatious interactions or hit on women, etc. I make this conscious and deliberate choice out of respect and courtesy for other people. Because while I personally wouldn't mind being flirted with or hit on while I'm out getting my groceries or at work, by women that I am attracted to or interested in, I WOULD mind if the woman making a pass at me was someone I had ZERO interest in, or if another man made a pass at me.

Understanding that other people probably feel the same way, and empathizing with the desire (and the right!) to go about one's business or do one's job without being hit or heckled by people one have no interest in, and having zero ability to reliably determine whether someone else is interested in me or receptive to advances from me, I make the conscious, deliberate, and willing choice to not engage in those behaviors outside of environments/circumstances in general public and particularly in a professional environment.

In other terms, I generally try not to be an ass, or make an ass of myself, and one of the fastest ways to do that is to hit on someone who does not reciprocate that interest, or who just wants to go about their day or do their job without being propositioned for sex.

NONE of that is a curtailment of my rights or freedoms or freedom of will, even in the ridiculous-extreme sense of absolute freedom where the infringement of ANY action, up to and including rape, murder, and whatever worse actions our twisted minds can come up with, is considered an infringement of absolute freedom. I am making a deliberate, conscious, and willful choice to behave that way, to conduct myself in a socially responsible manner, to not be an ass, and to treat others with courtesy, dignity, and respect.

To carry on to other aspects of the sexual assault/rape discussion from last thread, female rape of males IS A THING. It really and actually DOES HAPPEN. It is not as big of a problem in today's society as male harassment/assault/rape of women, but IT DOES HAPPEN, and it happens a lot more than most people realize. A LOT more. This is largely because it is a problem that is VASTLY under-reported, for a myriad of reasons. It is also severely under-studied, compared to male rape of females (and to a lesser extent, male rape of males).

The important thing to remember is that it does happen, and it is absolutely essential to apply the same standards of believing and not blaming and/or shaming the victim that we apply to female rape victims, to male rape victims.

Paul SB said...


"I am looking forward to skimming it over and wishing I had the ____________ to actually read the thing"

Nothing to do with genitalia, could be brain cells, though. I'm usually pretty good on the reading comprehension front. Probably the best thing to fill that blank with would be: absence of distractions.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,
I watched your Mendelpod video last night and found it pretty entertaining. When you talked about the problem with males, it reminded me of a couple things. My daughter has a bearded dragon, a type of lizard from Australia. They have a bit more oxytocin than must reptiles, so they are a bit more snuggly and are becoming popular pets. Since the guy started going into puberty, my daughter has wanted to get him a girlfriend, but hasn’t had much luck. They are in high demand. But while she was asking around, she was told by a pet shop employee that if she gets a female she will need her own aquarium. He warned that if she puts the female in the same home, the male will basically want to mate with her almost constantly, and after a few weeks of this the female stops eating and starves to death. Apparently they don’t cohabitate in the wild, or they would go extinct.

It makes you wonder to what extent human males share instincts with the males of other species. Recent DNA-based heritage searches have confirmed what you say about most humans today being descendants of “big men” and their harems (regardless of religious injunctions about monogamy). Here we have an interaction between culture and genetics that creates a selective pressure, but now culture is swinging the other way - pretty much what the population growth curves would predict.

But while I was thinking about these things, my daughter was reading her latest National Geographic, which had an article about another type of lizard, the whiptail genus, which includes over a dozen species that don’t have a “male problem” because they don’t have males. The article mentioned that their eggs are actually quadroploid, like some plants, and that with intensive crossing over they manage to still produce some decent genetic variability.

And I thought: wouldn’t the Perkinites see this as a model to emulate? Or even more radical groups? What might be more appealing, though, would be ovum-to-ovum fertilization. This would be good not because it would eliminate the y chromosome, but because it would eliminate unwanted pregnancy. Since it would be a lab procedure, once the possibility of random male fertilization has aged out of existence, there would be virtually no unwanted children. Of course, culture will dictate ideal family sizes, so you could still have people who have kids for the wrong reasons, but it would be nothing like all of human history before.

LarryHart said...

Ilithi Dragon:

Locum is a bit more than even 2% right, and he brings up a very good, salient, and important point that the Left often neglects or ignores, and that is the issue of equality in sexual consent laws.

Agreed, but his mistake is to lump everyone who opposes churlish bullying in with "the left", assume I'm an advocate for every loony accusation a shrill leftist has thrown at him, and then slander me as if I had taken those positions.

David Brin said...

Tacitus points out some cogent points about Power… um… Point. It happens that I use it a lot, partly because I have a lot of points to make in my talks and partly because I have so many cool images and I have become pretty good at the animations. Look, I understand the complaints. Still, PP is the only Microsoft product that I use without (much) cursing.) WORD is a medieval torture device - and yes, alas, ubiquitous - that must be used at least six hours every single darn day. Excel has its uses, I see, but it is bizarrely unfriendly to the casual user, like me. (Why won’t it simply let you select-all the contents of a box?) Power Point at least is free of noxiously obstinate land mines.

Sure, I engage my audiences a bit better than most and make them look my way. I’m a pro, so I can make them look or attend where I want. Nice to learn YOUR methods, too, Tacitus!

PAulSB interesting parthenogenesis speculation. I wrote Glory Season when it still looked as if mammals needed sperm-conditioned genes to make the placenta.

Lena said...

Ilithi Dragon,

Nothing to disagree with above. However, note that Locumranch has been here much longer than I have, and has made himself a reputation. Just last year he complained bitterly that not being allowed to masturbate in public was an oppressive restriction of his freedom. He seems to think that pretty much everything is a restriction on his freedom. (My Buddhist relatives would probably say that he must have been a bear in a past life.) It's why I brought back that quote about insanity from "Earth." As you say, it is a choice to not be an asshole, a groper, a gawker or worse. Most people make that choice because they don't want to feel like they are assholes - it's as much about self-perception as it is about our relationships with each other. But he just can't seem to get that.

Paul SB said...


I tried using the appropriate terminology with Iroquois Boy before and got no response. It doesn't look to me like he actually reads anything in the comments section here, he seems to read the main post, then do a drive-by.

duncan cairncross said...

Re - Power Point

I have had numerous "Train the Trainer" sessions but the BEST by far was the instructor training by BSAC The British Sub Aqua Club

One of their main points was that you should try and eliminate all distractions.
If your audience is looking out of the window or reading the posters on the wall they are not listening to the lecture.
This includes your slides (overhead projectors back then) there should not be anything extraneous on the slides to distract your audience

Power Point is bloody awful for this it is designed to add all sorts of fancy bits that will have the effect of distracting from the subject

In my opinion Power Point is a disaster that has resulted in less knowledge being transmitted and much more time being wasted

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

In your Mendelpod interview you explained how scientists go to conferences and get their hypotheses totally reamed by cut-throat competitors. Instead of being dismayed, they can take this as free critique, which allows them to come back later with an even stronger thesis.

"PAulSB interesting parthenogenesis speculation. I wrote Glory Season when it still looked as if mammals needed sperm-conditioned genes to make the placenta."

I'm not a competitor by any stretch of the imagination, but I hope you will take it as a freebie. 8) (Taking a cue from Alfred on funny-looking smiley symbols.)

David Brin said...

Actually, Paul, scientists go to conferences hoping their colleagues will be intrigued and poke in interesting but NOT devastating ways.

It is before the conference when they make grad students critique the prof's paper to find any errors. A terrifying time for students!

LarryHart said...


As you say, it is a choice to not be an asshole, a groper, a gawker or worse. Most people make that choice because they don't want to feel like they are assholes - it's as much about self-perception as it is about our relationships with each other. But he just can't seem to get that.

If you start by postulating that all of our choices are sociologically constrained--that we are in behavioral chains to begin with--then it's easy to prove from that that we have no free will. Now that we know that, what do we know?

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

In my opinion Power Point is a disaster that has resulted in less knowledge being transmitted and much more time being wasted.

PowerPoint is a tool that happens to be good at wasting time. What you rail against is more a symptom of office management culture which values meetings over doing stuff. Wasting time while giving the impression of value is the whole point. PowerPoint just came along and monopolized the means of doing so. But if it hadn't been that particular tool, others would have filled the role.

Jumper said...

In our discussion of How to Flirt, Ogle and Maybe Get Laid Without Being a Jerk, I recall the woman who recorded every stare, smile, "hello" and ogle she got on a walk around New York, I think it was. The lesson is that there is a lot of failure to realize this:

Each guy seemed to see her in a vacuum. Each guy would be surprised to realize he was not the only guy to flirt, ogle, smile or speak to her that day. Or shout something. That she was not objecting to one guy bugging her. She was objecting to multiple guys, documented as hundreds, doing it every second of every day as she walked.

If you are unwilling to imagine walking in someone else's shoes, can't seem to empathize what someone else is going through, it's not a bad strategy to brush you off.

But like most knowledge, be of good cheer. You can use this to your advantage. I guarantee if you approach a good looking woman in a non-threatening situation and moment, look her in the eye, and say "They hate me 'cause I'm beautiful" she will be hooked.

Treebeard said...

Doesn't California have the nation's worst wealth inequality and the most poverty, a mass middle class exodus and a large and growing homeless problem? And top that off with a nutty, cosmically arrogant gang of tech-elites who worry about whether we're living in a simulation and other absurdities, rather than the homeless dude on their sidewalk? Is this what it felt like in the lead-up to the French Revolution? Californication – the techno-porno-plutocratic feudal police state, coming to a state near you. For SCIENCE!

Paul SB said...


I looked up and saw your response to "Lena" and wondered if there was a new commentator on board, then saw the lines you had quoted and realized it was just me forgetting to tell the computer it was me and not my wife's English pseudonym. But as long as I'm back here and not preparing intervention packets like I should be, I might as well comment.

Now that we know that, what do we know?

Well, not much, really. The old free will debate has been around for a long time, and most people's comprehension of it is based on religious debates, not on where the science has taken us. Where does the science take us here? In answer to the question, do we have free will or are our actions determined by something else (religious thinkers would conceive of something vague like /fate/ of the will of some god or other, but scientists are more likely to put this in terms of genetics)? The answer is yes. All those neural networks, synaptic connections and neurotransmitters give exactly the opposite impression that humans have always had. We feel like we have choice, but all that machinery makes it look like we don't. But remember what those frontal lobes are for. They give us choice, the ability to choose differently than what our instincts would have us do. It isn't 100%. A baby doesn't have much int he way of free will. Willpower has to be learned and practiced. But I doubt that even the best of us can totally overcome what instincts we have, because we don't really even know what they are. All we can do is muddle through, trying to do what is right by ourselves and our Universe. The more we know, the better choices we can make. If we merely assume we know, then free will truly is an illusion, and we are mere slaves to our instincts.

Paul SB said...


I remember that discussion, too. Pretty eye-opening. But you can apply that same idea to being a minority of any kind, anywhere in the world. If you look different from the "default person" in your nation, you don't know how many of those mainstream people are judging you behind their eyes and how many aren't, and you can't tell them apart just by looking. Pavlov showed that intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful form of conditioning. So a person who is treated like dirt, threatened and shaken down one day, then treated like an honored guest the next, is most likely to respond with paranoia. The situation is probably worse with the M/F divide, because we are supposed to look for the opposite sex to find a soulmate, and yet so many of the opposite sex want to treat you like a symbol of their status instead of a warm, loving human being. Talk about intermittent conditioning! Think about Michelle Obama's speech in those terms, then think about what our host said about having to go through a difficult period before things can normalize and reach a new equilibrium. Those of us who are not troglodyte throwbacks are forced to walk on eggshells precisely because there are so many trogs out there making us look bad.

Treebeard said...

So Greg, is the new line to brush off any serious criticism of Clinton and the neoliberal order as "Russian propaganda"? Is the goal to set up a Uniparty State with a corporate media that parrots its line without question, and that conspires against any outsider (Trump, the "next Hitler") who isn't owned by the system?And if anyone threatens the racket too much, it can create some narrative like "Russian hackers", start a war, subvert democracy, and the media goes along with it. That's how it's starting to look from here. And the strange this how many people building this system think of themselves as “liberals” on the side of the angels. LOOOL.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

I was never asked to critique a professor's work, but I did give a presentation at a conference once, at Bryn Mawr. It was quite terrifying, and yet I was very well received by the audience. The only critique I got was from the old professors who were hosting the conference, and their critique was hardly more than unthinking defensiveness, since my presentation called into question the certainty of interpretations made by outsiders, which would include them. I think I mentioned the bit about their "emetic" interpretation, which I had to stifle a guffaw on hearing. I felt sorry for the students of those professors, but they were art history people, so standards of evidence just weren't up to the level of the sciences. Authority still rules in those intellectual spaces.

David Brin said...

"... California have the nation's worst wealth inequality and the most poverty, a mass middle class exodus and a large and growing homeless problem?"

At least the assertions formed a kind of coherence. Answers:

- Not at all true. But there is a difference between wealth disparity that is at the expense of the middle class and the California kind. You twits hate the very caste that has done capitalism they way YOU say it should be done! Making tons of $ by innovating new and better goods and services, plowing their wealth into R&D and new productive capacity. Everything Supply Side was supposed to achieve but never did, with the majority of (republican) oligarchs.

Note that the CA billionaires know that Supply Side is insane and never worked and that their wealth depends on a healthy-rising middle class, and they generally want their own taxes to go up.

- Middle class exodus Har! Where do you GET this crap?

- Homelessness? Sure. Because CA has HALF of the nation's new employment prospects and beautiful weather, sure, poor folks immigrate and then find it hard to cope with a high cost of living. CA is also the pioneer in new approaches to homelessness amelioration.

You got nuthin' manT rump's America out competes CA only in categories from teen sex/[pregancy/STDs domestic violence, obesity etc to declining education and IQ.

"Uniparty State with a corporate media..." Oh my ribs! The GOP was the most tightly disciplined partisan force in US history, reflexively parroting every talking point issued by Roger (pervert) Ailes. They are shattering because the average IQ, after driving away every fact-based profession - has crashed into the basement.

If the Dems wind up dominant, then you KNOW what will happen, fool. They are the opposite... a swarm of cats! They will immediately break up into smaller units, including one that is the nucleus for a sane and grownup conservative/business party.

That is exactly what's happening in California. So unlike your armwaved ravings, my response is supported by facts. Look up the word some time.

Treebeard said...

I don't know, it looks like the Democrats emulated the GOP in a lot of ways, including the neocon tendency to create phantom menaces so they can launch wars and crack down on dissent. What I'm seeing is a pretty well-oiled corporate Party machine, massively funded by Wall Street. The Democrats are the new Republicans, it seems.

ahorseofcourse said...

You may be interested in this post that delves into the history of American Liberalism as an ideology of the educated elite:

LarryHart said...


So Greg, is the new line to brush off any serious criticism of Clinton and the neoliberal order as "Russian propaganda"?

No, just the actual...whatayacall...Russian propaganda.

Is the goal to set up a Uniparty State with a corporate media that parrots its line without question, and that conspires against any outsider ... who isn't owned by the system?

No, the goal is specifically to prevent such a thing, which we had for a while under W and would have again with a vengeance under your man Trump.

And if anyone threatens the racket too much, it can create some narrative like "Russian hackers", start a war, subvert democracy,

Trump--not Hillary--does all of those things.

and the media goes along with it. That's how it's starting to look from here.

The media has gone along with Trump until now, just as they went along with W until Katrina and Terry Schiavo. Fortunately, they seem to have come to their senses. It probably occured to them just who would be the first target of a President Trump.

And the strange this how many people building this system think of themselves as “liberals” on the side of the angels.

No, the strange thing is that Trump supporters think they are on the side of the angels (and for that matter, that they are being conservative).

David Brin said...

Finally something true from Treebeard. "I don't know." And on that rock they might be salvation.

If there are small-normal items of "corruption" to point at amid the dems, or even wars you do not like... then let's use them as a starting point for further exposure and reform... given that their "corruption" is a minuscule sliver next to Gopper corruption and their wars aim at efficient victory, instead of massive insanities that destroy our budgets and military.

Get rid of the latter pack of monsters and maybe we can reform or punish the stunningly smaller malfeasance of the dems, who are at worst 50% honest reformers in their own right.

Argh! So Hillary said a couple of things Goldman wanted to hear, in her well-paid speech... before turning and chiding them for other things. Corruption!!!!!

LarryHart said...


What I'm seeing is a pretty well-oiled corporate Party machine, massively funded by Wall Street. The Democrats are the new Republicans, it seems.

If that were true, then you'd be loving them.

Do you ever ask yourself why Republicans hate Hillary so much if she's such a Wall Street owned war-monger? Why wasn't she John McCain's running mate in 2008?

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. PowerPoint isn't the problem. You can find an analogous problem with users of MS Project. Good project managers know the Gantt chart is about 10% of the work to be done and one shouldn't even bother starting it until a lot of preliminary work is done. Place holder project managers start with the Gantt chart thinking there are short cuts or that this is what project management is all about.

Software tools can't fix people problems. They can barely lead people along the right path toward proficiency, but the user has to realize their deficiency and make use of Help, Templates, and Wizards.

Don't blame the hammer for a bent nail.
Look to the novice wielding it. 8)

Unknown said...

Always love to drop by for the sizzlin' hot takes from Brin & Co. Can't wait for HRC to break up the banks that have given her and her campaign millions of dollars - everyone knows that empty campaign promises are as material as million dollar contributions! I'm sure that will happen right after Medicare is extended to all minors.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi hadend
You want to bet some money on that?
If the Dems have the House + Senate + Presidency inside the first year they will do both of those (or the equivalent)
So how much money and what odds??

Alfred Differ said...

@Treebeard: The Democrats well-oiled machine isn't an emulation of the GOP. The Democrats are an old political party. They had their 'machines' running long, long ago running major cities and whole states. Those machines have survived a lot of political turmoil over the generations too, so they are battle-tested AND well-oiled.

Political parties that fail to develop their own machines don't get very far. There is a power vacuum between individual voters and governing bodies that parties expand into, so this is a trait of our system of governance.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I doubt they will, but not in the cynical way hadend seems to be expressing. I recall what happened in 2009 when they had Congress and the White House. Some of the more moderate Democrats weren't willing to go as far as the Progressives wanted and that was enough to help the GOP block action. We see this a bit in California where the Democrats seem to have everything locked up, yet the moderates among them can act as counter-weights against those farthest to the left.

I don't think Clinton is as starry-eyed as Obama and his supporters were in 2009. She knows this lesson from an earlier experience too. 8)

Unknown said...

Hi Duncan,

How about a dime for every dollar Goldman Sachs has given HRCs campaign this election cycle? To get the odds I just plug in the inverse number of times Eric Holder's DOJ prosecuted high-profile bankers times his post-AG Wall Street salary to get: 10,404,500,205 : 1 odds. Do those numbers work for you?

Yes these numbers apply if all three branches go to the Dems this November.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Hadend

So you will give me 10Billion to 1 odds?
If I bet $10 you give me $100Billion?

I have to say that I accept!!

Will you leave your security deposit with Dr Brin?

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I recall what happened in 2009 when they had Congress and the White House. Some of the more moderate Democrats weren't willing to go as far as the Progressives wanted and that was enough to help the GOP block action.

Which has nothing to do with Hillary and her Wall St speeches.

LarryHart said...

...What I mean is, President Sanders would have been in the same situation if congress won't go along.

Unknown said...

Well since I offered a dime for every dollar of Goldman Sachs' "totally-not-corruption™" money to HRC's campaign, the original wager was significantly higher than $10, but we can do $10 bucks too. Yep, $100Billion coming your way (actually $104,045,002,050 but who's counting?). I'd start spending if I were you! Nothing more secure than something based on campaign promises!

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: Our Founders liked this division apparently. 8)

Clinton's Wall Street speeches make for good election material. I don't expect her to be able to deliver or even want to deliver. Sanders I would believe would want it, but he would have gone just as far.

It's rare that I believe a campaign promise. It is even rarer that I believe Hillary Clinton's promises. I respect her too much to be good at the job she is trying to win. She will make her effort look good, but I don't see her doing more than making an example of someone.

Alfred Differ said...

It would appear the Chicago Tribune has endorsed Gary Johnson.

The editorial makes it clear they think Trump is the worse choice of the two major parties, but they finish with an explanation of why they can't recommend Clinton.

LarryHart said...

@Alfred Differ:

That Tribune endorsement was in the print edition last Sunday. Today's endorsement was more significant. They endorsed Tammy Duckworth (D) over Mark Kirk (R) for Kirk's Senate seat.

The "principled" reason they can't endorse Hillary is apparently that she won't cut social security and Medicare in order to tame the debt. It's also the reason they say they can't endorse Trump. They endorsed W twice, and he borrowed money when there was still a cost to doing so. Now when interest rates are practically negative, and the 2010 austerity craze (here and in Europe) has been discredited, they're still hanging on to that argument?

David Brin said...

hadend offer wagers! We have seen you guys shrug off any progress or action too many times. Anything she does will not satisfy you. Nothing wrong with that! But you have proved you have zero sense of proportion.

Look up the CFPB... pushed through by dems and blocked at every turn by goppers. Or the opposite efforts to fund vs defund the SEC and IRS. Tell us there's no difference.

LH & AD - Like anyone cares who the ChiTrib endorses?

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

As has been noted recently, most newspaper endorsements don't mean what they used to, but the ones that still have an impact are the unusual ones. "Tribune endorses a Republican" is a yawner, but "Tribune endorses a Democrat" is like "Man bites dog!"

The Tribune endorsing a Democrat for Senate is almost as out of character as it was for them to endorse their first Democrat ever for president in 2008. They squirm to find credible reasons to endorse Gary Johnson instead of Hillary, but the fact that they could not bring themselves to endorse the actual Republican candidate is what is noticeable. Likewise, the Arizona and Texas papers endorsing their first Democrat (Hillary) since before the Cubs won their last World Series.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: With our track record of paying off debt, one should consider carefully even an offer of free money. Asking what we won't be able to finance when those bonds get refinanced is a reasonable question.

As for Social Security, don't ignore the fact that we can raise the salary cap or the retirement age as a way to deal with the growing real income and rising life expectancy. One is not a slash. The other can be phased in to reflect reality.

As for their track record...

@David: Heh. We libertarians will grasp at most anything. In Illinois, though, a vote for Clinton is about as valuable as it is in California. Chicago isn't in a swing state. 8)

Unknown said...

I completely understand voting HRC because of the lesser evil argument but voting for her because you think she will actually break up the banks is extremely glib (or naive, but you're not naive are you Dr. Brin?).

Paul SB said...

I had a rather odd idea, and since most of the people here are fans of science fiction and probably read a bit of Robert Heinlein in their day, maybe this is a good audience. The discussion about sexual equality & how to behave like a decent human being regardless of what might be between your legs reminded me of a number of stories in which future societies feature marriage contracts. These contracts might be for 1 year, or 5 years or even for life, but they were legal contracts to which the signatories were obligated in the same way people are obligated to other contracts. That got me thinking about the problem that Ilithi Dragon brought up, about the very small but no less real percentage of people who have consensual sex, then accuse the partner of rape. Could there be a technological solution, similar to Heinlein's marriage contracts? If everyone who hit the sack together took out their cell phone and recorded a statement of consent, time-stamped by the phone and uploaded to an email server, then there would be some sort of evidence that would be more than just he-said-she-said.

Not romantic or spontaneous at all, and it would take some time for something like this to become SOP, but it might help. One problem I can see, though, is if two people record their consent, but one then decides to pursue some sort of violent activity the other doesn't want, lawyers would argue that the consent statement is a contract, so unless the statement specifies exact activities to be engaged in, or forbids specific actions, then the victim would be out of luck. Any thoughts?

I almost forgot to uncheck the "Lena" button again. One day someone who really has that name will comment, and everyone else will think it's me having another senior moment. : /

Paul SB said...

You might be right about breaking up the big banks, but Uncle Hillary is much more likely to try than any Republican, anywhere, simply because this is something most of the citizenry are clambering for. Republicans won't even try because they openly stand for big money interests. That is exactly what Supply Side Economics is all about - it's an obfuscation meant to fool people who they traditionally screw into thinking they are really working for the good of the country. Clinton might not, or she might try and fail, because our 2 party system has so much inertia. She is still a better bet than any of the viable alternatives.

David Brin said...

"break up the banks" leaves you lots of wriggle room, hadend. And if you are looking for the full-Bernie, well, you may be disappointed.

But if the dems sweep congress you will get many many half-measures that will lvel things incrementally so you can complain from a platform of less-wrong in dozens of ways.

You may see no difference between "all-oligarchic-evil" and half-a-loaf-incremental-reformer compromisers. But that only makes you blind.

Fight from there! Stop whining.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: The problem with such contracts is they work best for the very people who don't need them. Any male willing to accept a lack of 'Yes' as 'No' and a change of mind in mid act isn't really a threat to women. The guys who are would bother with these contracts... why?

This gets fixed when women are recording their daily lives and have evidence a jury must face. Think of David's gel lenses on stalks. Would a woman sporting them be assaulted by a man who was worth suing? Would we even stare at her? 8)

Unknown said...

Okey dokey, you, not me, made a lot of wild claims about radical reforms Clinton will pass if she gets a congress. The fact that 'break up the banks' (an unambiguous term, btws) rapidly became 'half-measures ... incremently' makes me think glib was the right word.

Also, see my comment where I said I understand the lesser evil argument.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

The problem with raising retirement age is not people like us - our lifespan has been increasing
The issue is people who do hard physical labor and whose bodies wear out
The poorest 20% of society has had little or no increase in lifespan - it is very unfair on them to increase the retirement age.

The recent English rape case had a "victim" who had a history of drinking a lot - being sexually active and then forgetting that she had agreed
I suspect that a "contract" would not help that but that a "body cam" would
How long before people leave their phones "on" so that they can see/hear what they got up to while drunk?

donzelion said...

Ah, noticed Dr. Brin is back! Any word on Prop 54 (Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote + recording and broadcasting video from all public meetings)?

Quite a few of us are wondering at your views as to whether this really is a step towards transparency, a starting point of a sousveillance system, or a step backwards and a distraction.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I won't support a heartless plan for change, but there are two distinct issues with your 'fairness' complaint.

1) Our Social Security system was designed as a form of insurance. IF you lived long enough, you'd see a pay out. Many didn't. Now many, many more do. Changing assumptions associated with the financial model require that we adapt the model if we are honest in our intent for it to be a social safety net.

2) That's what disability is for. One lady I know online educated me and my friends on the physical hazards associated with law enforcement work. If they aren't injured seriously by age 50, they did a lot of desk work. As the injuries add up, they eventually can't do the work. By the time she was done, I thought it sounded a lot like heavy industrial work. Okay. Let them retire, but better yet, offer disability and encourage them to do other work

I think your notion that the poorest 20% haven't seen much increased lifespan is utter nonsense, though. They've gone from dying young to many seeing their grandchildren. Show me the stats if you have them, but I suspect they are over a small time scale if they exist at all.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

No increase in life expectancy for the lower 25% for the last 30 years!

The top 25% are expected to live for 6 more years - on top of an initial advantage of six years giving a total advantage of 12 years!!

I think 30 years is not a small time scale!

As far as disability is concerned - there is a major disadvantage - even in countries that have a very good safety net such as Sweden people on special benefits like disability have much worse mental health problems that seem to go away when they reach retirement age and are enjoying the same benefits as everybody else
It seems that even if their physical needs are taken care of there is a stress in "being on a benefit" which is not there when they are on the same benefit as their peers

Paul SB said...


You're thinking, but you're thinking about law suits when rape is statutory - people do jail time. The cameras on stalks would work just as well as using a cell phone, though most people are going to switch off while in flagrante delecto. The important thing is that both partners (or perhaps more than both, depending on people's tastes) would be recording consent before the act, providing proof of intent and eliminating the plausibility of someone claiming rape afterwards. It might be good if the device could measure BAC as well.

Paul SB said...

Between Alfred and Duncan there's a little bit of right on both sides. On the macro scale of centuries, average lifespan has gone up quite dramatically. When 65 was set as the age of Social Security payout, the average life expectancy was 60 years. The government was not expecting to shell out to a whole lot of people. Now the average is 74, and the government here is going bankrupt. But the increase in life expectancy has benefited wealthy people more than less wealthy people, and there are neighborhoods where the average life expectancy is as low as 50. That National Geographic video called "Stress: Portrait of a Killer" discusses that. It's well worth an hour of your time.

This is the problem with relying on averages and not looking at deviations. Higher-stress occupations, or higher-stress environments probably need to be factored in to Social Security. Disability is a somewhat different issue, and I wouldn't suggest a rule allowing payouts for "stress" as a general condition (too easy to cheat) but if a person is experiencing stress-related disorders they might qualify for an earlier retirement age.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

@LarryHart: With our track record of paying off debt, one should consider carefully even an offer of free money. Asking what we won't be able to finance when those bonds get refinanced is a reasonable question.

I get that, but I have to wonder why debt-reduction is a high-priority issue only when Democrats are in power, or as an argument against a Democrat. George W Bush had a Republican congress for six years, and not only did the national debt explode, but no one cared. Cheney proclaimed, "Ronald Reagan showed us deficits don't matter," and that was that. Until Obama was elected. Then, suddenly, the debt was a crisis and we had to pay it down immediately, even during the worst recession since the 1930s--a situation in which government spending is not the problem, it is the solution to the problem.

Granted, we also got a lot of belated "I don't like it when either party does it,", but strangely enough, people who say that only say that while complaining about a Democrat.

Beyond that, the Bush deficits were a feature, not a bug, of Republican policy. Alan Greenspan was terrified of the potential consequences of the national debt becoming a national surplus, so he advised Bush to implement policies that restored the deficit. So the idea that Republicans will tame the deficit is absurd on its face. They're more likely to actually get around to outlawing abortion than to risk falling into a national surplus again.

So excuse me if I scoff when my hometown paper recognizes that Trump is a dangerous buffoon and that Hillary is eminently qualified for the office, but can't endorse her either because she won't slash social programs quickly enough for their tastes.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

As for Social Security, don't ignore the fact that we can raise the salary cap or the retirement age as a way to deal with the growing real income and rising life expectancy. One is not a slash. The other can be phased in to reflect reality.

The latter sounds right on paper, but I'd want to be extremely careful about implementation. Life expectancies are soaring for wealthier people and those likely to work desk jobs who can work into their 80s. Using that to raise retirement age for those who work hard-labor jobs seems cruel.

The former sounds so easy a solution that one wonders why it hasn't already been done, and therefore guesses that it won't likely be done.

That said, I get your point, but the Tribune isn't panning Hillary for not correcting the pitfalls in Social Security. They're panning her for not cutting benefits, under the theory that it's necessary to do so. You're actually arguing against them here.

As for their track record...

@David: Heh. We libertarians will grasp at most anything...

Forgive me, I forgot that you were speaking as a Libertarian when celebrating the Tribune's endorsement of a Libertarian. Puts a bit of a different spin on it. Sorry.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

This gets fixed when women are recording their daily lives and have evidence a jury must face. Think of David's gel lenses on stalks. Would a woman sporting them be assaulted by a man who was worth suing? Would we even stare at her? 8)

We would have to stare at her obliquely, on a polished surface, lest her Medusa-like tendrils turn us to stone. :)

LarryHart said...

From today's Paul Krugman column in the New York Times. I've been trying to articulate this for years now, but especially in response to Trump supporters:

I’m a baby boomer, which means that I’m old enough to remember conservatives yelling “America — love it or leave it!” at people on the left who criticized racism and inequality. But that was a long time ago. These days, disdain for America — the America that actually exists, not an imaginary “real America” in which minorities and women know their place — is concentrated on the right.

To be sure, progressives still see a lot wrong with the state of our society, and seek change. But they also celebrate the progress we have made, and for the most part the change they seek is incremental: It involves building on existing institutions, not burning everything down and starting over.

On the right, however, you increasingly find prominent figures describing our society as a nightmarish dystopia.

LarryHart said...

From today's (including the headline, which is the best part)

Rudy Giuliani is Becoming Unhinged

In an effort to show his loyalty, or vent his frustrations, or who exactly knows what, Rudy Giuliani has developed a willingness to say just about anything these days, regardless of how bad it makes him look. On Thursday of last week, for example, he launched into an extended anti-Hillary Clinton harangue, blasting her for not bothering to visit Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks. It took just minutes for Twitter to be flooded with photos of Clinton visiting Ground Zero, escorted by Giuliani. "America's Mayor" was compelled to apologize for that one.

I would add that certain Holnist posters on this list are becoming unhinged in the exact same way. And I recognize the symptoms, because back in 2008, my formerly-sane conservative buddy Chris on the "Cerebus" list went into la-la land over Obama in just such a manner.

Is there such a disease as "Democrat-Incuded Derangement Syndrome"?

A.F. Rey said...

Brin is an actor as well as writer and scientist.

I didn't know you also acted, Dr. Brin!

Hey, since Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature, does that mean that you have a shot at an Oscar? :)

raito said...

'break up the banks'

I have often wondered if perhaps a better solution to 2008 would have been to let the banks fail. Put the TARP money into the FDIC and pay the depositors, even bending the rules if necessary. The debt the banks owned would be bought by somebody. Most of the people working at the banks probably wouldn't lose their jobs, as they'd be acquired. The only part I'm not really qualified to work out is whether the stock market hit would actually be a disaster. I'm running out of fingers on one hand to count the number of times my retirement savings has been cut in half since I began working. And it happened again in 2008. So it wasn't really a disaster.

'educational reform'
Sounds good until you actually visit local school district functions. I recall a discussion at one on 'the future'. There was quite a number who feel that vocational training is the same as preparing someone for the future. From that bunch, I got nothing but bovine, uncomprehending stares when I stated that the best way to prepare for the future is to create it (not my quote, but perfect under the circumstances). At least the teachers agreed with me. Imagine a school district long-range policy discussion where mentioning academic achievement is frowned upon by the attendees.


I think that the first change is likely to be a change stating the value in excess of 'intrinsic' value. So you'd only have to do anything is the baseball is sold for more than $5 more than an unsigned baseball.


Sure, it can be effective. But it encourages laziness. To the point where 95% of the meetings/lectures/seminars I've attended that have used it I could have just looked at the slides at my leisure.

Being efficient might be able to be looked at as a beneficial form of laziness. But there's other forms, and tools like PP encourage those.

I do have to make presentations regularly (not frequently, regularly). I only use something like PP if it's going to a large audience where using a projector makes sense.

It's no accident that my university required classes in speech and writing for engineers.

occam's comic said...

Paul SB
you said " When 65 was set as the age of Social Security payout, the average life expectancy was 60 years. The government was not expecting to shell out to a whole lot of people" you are really insulting the demographers at the Social Security Agency.

First of all demographers understand what is meant by the demographic term "life expectancy". For example say the life expectancy at birth in 1940 is 60 years, that does not mean that someone born in 1940 is expected to live 60 years. The term Life expectancy at birth is a statistic that summarizes the age specific death rates for the population that year. So for 1940 you add up the probability of surviving the first year of life, plus the probability of surviving the second year of life, and so on until you have gone through all your age specific death rates for that year.

Demographers know this statistic is heavily impacted by deaths at a young age. So they used a slightly different statistic: the life expectancy at age 65 in 1940. This statistic summarizes the age specific death rates for people age 65 and over in 1940.

In 1950 life expectancy at 65 was 13.9 years and in 2010 that value was 19.1 years.
And that is pretty close to the projections that were done by the demographers at SS. Social Security has always had a good estimate of how many people are over the age of 65 and how long we can expect them to live.

David Brin said...

Dozelion, I intend to study but may not have as much time for that encyclopedia on ballot props. So for those that still confuse me? I intend on looking at what Jerry Brown has to say about them. I trust him more than any politician alive.

LH… Giuliani is BECOMING unhinged???? No. It’s the rallies. They are addictive to him & DT and have prevented DT from doing any veer to the center.

Letting banks “fail;” was unnecessary. Just fire all the officers and claw back their compensation packages and give the bank stockholders a big haircut. That’d teach em. It worked in the auto industry

Bah, you are a slippery one, hadend. “Lesser of evils” and “incremental reform” may be identical to you, but not to anyone mature or sane-honest. The Republicans incessantly move us in evil directions. I gave example after example of where even a minimalist democrat would move us at least halfway back in positive one. Were you to use words like “pallid” or “anemic” you’d be within your rights. “Lesser of evils” is simply dishonest polemical trickery.

Just fully funding the SEC and IRS and NSF and CFPB would serve a blow to the cheaters, and that has always been in the DP baseline. Just eliminating Citizens United and reining in PACS would not satisfy you OR me! We want money to be even more removed from politics than that. But a big start is a big start and a baseline from which to demand more. YOU KNOW that’s what I said but you dishonestly ignored it.

Unknown said...

Well 'lesser of evils' and 'incremental reform' often are identical - don't really see what's dishonest or immature about that view. Besides, like the dude said, that's just, like, your opinion man.

Dennis M Davidson said...

@David Brin
As you may know, Giuliani's history of unhinged behavior goes back to before he was Mayor of NYC. On Sept 16, 1992 Giuliani stoked a police riot on the steps of City Hall. Thousands of police protested Mayor Dinkins’s proposal to investigate police misconduct with an hour of mayhem and street violence. It’s important to remember that despite Giuliani’s reputation as NYC’s law and order mayor, it was Mayor Dinkins who brought in 6000 new police and instituted better community policing that helped turn crime rates down.

Giuliani tends to be a loudmouth who rarely let facts interfere with his argument. His current behavior on behalf of Trump is more of the same. Actually it's more of the same but now it's all the time.

LarryHart said...


"Lesser of two evils" would be like: "Bush will raise the debt by several trillion dollars and get us into a war in Iraq; Kerry will raise the debt by a hundred billion or so to invest in crumbling infrastructure." If you think raising the debt at all is bad no matter what, then both are evil, but one is evil to a lesser extent. And if they are your only choices, you vote for "the lesser of two evils" because you'd rather have that than the "greater of two evils".

"Incremental reform" is more like: "McCain will keep medical insurance the way it had been, with insurance companies kicking people off the rolls when they actually need insurance, and excluding anyone with a previous condition from coverage; Obama will implement a plan that eliminates exclusions from medical insurance for pre-existing conditions, and starts us down the road toward insuring everybody." If you're in favor of a Bernie Sanders style single-payer system, neither one may seem acceptable, but one is on the way to acceptable, while the other is clearly going in the wrong direction.

Equating the two is like, in the middle of a midwestern winter, equating the following two statements:

"It's 10 degrees outside. Well, it's not good, but it's a bit better than minus 15."

"It's 48 degrees outside. I'd rather have 72, but it's February, so I'm happy with this for now."

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: Prop 54 is the "transparency" legislation, and is one on which you are uniquely positioned to take an interesting position. The others are political issues, for which your fans will care where you fall but may not be influenced - but this one is less a matter of "Im curious what you have to say" and more a matter of "You've been speaking about transparency for decades - so what do you think of this so-called transparency bill?"

It is your platform, if you want it.

By the way, on Prop 54, Jerry Brown opposes it, as does the Democratic party in general, and a lot of prominent progressive organizations followed suit. But several progressive groups also took the other side, and it seems that the arguments are really unclear (Alfred and I have gone over several in recent posts - but some of that may have been intended to attract your attention, or at least, that was my concern: this is 'your' issue, after all).

David Brin said...

Sigh... okay I'll take a closer look, donzel. But these things often have quirks and agendas. I make a distinction between long term trends, which must be toward a much more open world... and short term tactical moves. For example, I want all cops to wear cameras and to face inquiry if the cams ever 'fail'... but so long as the footage is available immediately to defense attorneys and oversight bodies, I can live with a delay getting the press to see.

donzelion said...

One last thought on Prop 54: the proponent behind it, Charles Munger Jr., is an intriguing case for a 'contrarian.'
(1) Inherited his money from Charles Munger, partner of Warren Buffett. Yet he's been a bona fide physicist (or at least, earned a PhD at UC Berkeley), not an ordinary rich boy simpleton.

(2) He consistently backs candidates branded "Republican moderates." In that sense, he may be scaring some of the dogmatic, evolution-hating fools out of office. While he's a fixture of Republican politics in California, the 'moderate/pragmatic' brand of Republicanism here is unusual in the party.

(2) You've praised California's anti-gerrymandering efforts, cited that as one of the reasons you believe California has moved to a better (if manic) system. Prop 20 of 2010, which conferred the power for redistricting, was one of Munger's initiatives (bankrolled almost entirely by Munger and his wife). To the extent you think California has reined in redistricting, you can lay at least some of the credit at Munger's feet.

This might be one of those measures where you break even from Jerry Brown on a principle you've defended and asserted publicly for a very long time (if you in fact believe that it fits with your calls - you might believe it's a sideshow that actually hurts the ultimate goals of sousveillance and transparency, in which case, there's an interesting explanation as to why you think that).

Unknown said...

@LarryHart, what does that have to do with Brin & Co. saying Hillary will break up the banks (and radically expand Medicare) if she gets a congress? I was making fun of those wild claims as unrealistic, I think you have misunderstood me somewhere along the thread.

This election is unique in that both major-party candidates are detested by the general public more than any previous since polling began so I'm gonna say 'lesser evil' fits.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "I want all cops to wear cameras and to face inquiry if the cams ever 'fail'... but so long as the footage is available immediately to defense attorneys and oversight bodies, I can live with a delay getting the press to see."

Understood. Two thoughts on that point:
(1) There are practical/procedural/privacy reasons why we might not want all police activity to be publicly available (at least, not immediately) - but none of those issues apply to legislative activities. If we can do this for legislators, it may make it more likely that we do it for other law enforcement and public officials as well. Incrementally, it seems this ought to be a step in the "right direction." (Or maybe not, for some reason that doesn't occur to me.)

(2) Technology (including software, hardware, and human processes and institutions) MIGHT be developed for the 'legislative system' that facilitates aspects of the system you do advocate. Alfred & Paul SB referred to some serious problems with the archiving/accessibility issues, esp. for a long-term storage. While I concede these are serious problems, I don't think they're "unsolvable" (more likely, they just won't be solved by a market-driven system, as they are not the sort of problems that when solved will result in profits for a provider). If you can record and display a legislator's public activity for 20 years, that system (or a similar system using similar tools) MIGHT be useful to record and display certain aspects of a police officer's conduct for 20 years.

David S. said...

It does seem that the main benefit of the 72 hour delay is that it slows down the number of bills that can get pushed through at the end of a legislative session. Under this proposition, at the end of the session you will have 72 hours during which you citizens/lobbyists can review, but the legislature cannot amend the bill (because that would reset the 72 hour clock and there wouldn't be any time in the session left to pass it).

This probably hurts the majority party more (as the majority party has the ability to push bills through at the last moment). So it doesn't surprise me that in California, the Governor and the Democratic party opposes it. I suspect that if the Democrats were the minority party, they would approve it.

So while I don't want to give the obstructionists any more tools to stop the legislature from doing their job, I'm in favor of the proposition.

David Brin said...

All hadend is doing now is beating off to a catechism. There is no evidence for "they are the same." It is diametrically opposite to true and just his own version of porn.

donzel... I will look closer.

LarryHart said...


This election is unique in that both major-party candidates are detested by the general public more than any previous since polling began so I'm gonna say 'lesser evil' fits

Hillary wasn't so detested when she tried to run in 2008. In fact, after Obama (who I voted for in the primary) was the nominee, I had a few bad moments thinking "What have we done? We're really running this untested black candidate instead of Hillary?".

What changed 'twixt then and now except for relentless (and fruitless) accusations from the Republican side? And why would they push such attacks if they're not concerned about her doing things they don't like?

So no, I don't buy "two evils". More like one evil and the illusion of another evil.

occam's comic said...

Put me in the "she is the lesser of two evils" camp.

For me this election is a choice between a crappy status quo that is slow walking us to global oligarchy, economic stagnation and further environmental deterioration vs a corrupt incompetent bigoted agent of change.

It looks like we will get the former, with Clinton as President and the republicans in control of the house. Four more years of political dysfunction, four more years slow walking us towards a crappier future.

I guess it is better than taking a fast train to a crappier future.

LarryHart said...


If you mean the "two evils" are Trump and the Republican Congress, then ok.

If you mean that Hillary is one of the evils in the scenario you describe above, how would (say) President Sanders and a Republican congress be any different?

occam's comic said...

Clinton is far too close to wall street and she will not provide the regulation that is needed. She is far too willing to use military force and with the tense situation with Russia that is potentially very dangerous. She will not provide the needed push back to the national security state. And a President Sanders would likely be different on those issues.

But a President Sanders with a republican house would be 4 more years of dysfunction and a slightly slower slow walk towards a crappier future.

Unknown said...

Alrightly Brin. I'll definitely add your response to the "I'm not mad!! Actually I'm laughing!" folder I keep of totally reasonable reactions to mild criticism.

David Brin said...

Bah, more whining. Dig it fellah, you kept repeating the same things over and over and over again and never once addressed the evidence to the contrary that I presented. You shrugged off example after example where the dems and goppers were not the same but opposites. Example after example where "lesser of evils" bears a steep burden of proof.

You weren't offering "mild criticism." You were offering a broken record.

David Brin said...