Monday, March 12, 2018

Politics vs Policy... vs Reality: and the "evonomics" of those tax cuts

First off…  I tol’ you so. “After President Trump signed the Republican tax cut into law, companies put out cheery announcements that they were giving workers bonuses because of their expected windfalls from the tax reductions. 

… Now? Corporate announcements and analyst reports confirm what honest observers always said — this claim was pure fantasy. Businesses are using the tax windfall to buy back shares, which our parents in the Greatest Generation were wise enough to outlaw in most circumstances.  Buybacks create demand for the stocks, boost share prices and benefit big investors. Some of the cash is going to increase dividends. And a chunk will go to acquiring other businesses, creating ever-larger corporations that face less competition. 

Oh, but it has one purpose above all others... making it trivial for CEOs to max their stock price milestones and cash out gigantic bonuses.

I have friends who actually dare to try the switcheroo on me, wailing "the tax cut on the wealthy is only a percent or so and I'll lose more by the loss of some deductions!"
My answer: "you'd insult me by thinking me so stupid I can't see where the huge corporate tax cut is going?" 

Seriously. Had the same amount of cut gone to targeted uses -- R&D, actual capital productive capacity, infrastructure or bona fide new jobs -- this might have been stimulative. As is? It is more Supply Side voodoo. A raid on the middle class that will widen steep wealth disparities, further plummet money velocity and send us plunging into debt.

These neo-feudal would-be lords are enemies of the republic. Enemies of civilization. And yes, the worst enemies of flat-fair-competitive-creative-entrepreneurial capitalism.

== Post mortems, looking back ==

Yipe! Read this detailed post-mortem of the tenure of Reince Preibus as White House Chief of Staff. It’s not unsympathetic. The list of stunning calamities will sound familiar, and yet you wind up a little sorry for the guy. A little.

‘Who would have ever thought that the Clinton-Gingrich years would become the good old days?’ I did. I’ve repeatedly called 1995 an “anno mirabilis” - or miracle year - in which the Republican Party paused in its obstructionism and lickspittle devotion to oligarchy, to actually negotiate some things in good faith, for the good of the country. Yes, conservative wishes that nevertheless were at least sane: like Welfare Reform and the Budget Act that led to surpluses. That kind of Republican is, of course, extinct.

Here: “Former Republican revolutionaries weigh in on the Trump presidency and reflect on retaking the House in 1994 with their “Contract With America” — and on whether their era was the end of a time when “public service was a noble calling.”

Let’s be clear. The 1995 Republicans were only admirable in comparison to the depths they later sank, then plunged. On the minus side, they began 22 years and half a billion dollars (that's BILLION) in “investigations" into every file, pore or body cavity of the Clintons, ultimately uncovering nothing to justify the hysteria. Zip.  Nada.

On the other hand, Newt wanted accomplishments and hence was the last GOP leader to negotiate with Democrats in good faith, resulting -- let me repeat -- in both Welfare Reform and the Clinton-Gingrich budget agreements that sent us into shrinking(!) debt.

Moreover, let’s admit that Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was brilliant political polemic! It made the oligarchic right look reformist (like a non-lobotomized version of “drain the swamp!”) And indeed half of the items on their list were actually somewhat meritorious! Those items were, of course, the ones the GOP almost immediately rescinded, betrayed or allowed to lapse… as they also banished the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) as part of the ensuing War on Science and Fact.

The key point is that Democrats… were they to find three neurons to scrape together… might do well to study the Contract With America. Learn from the past. Shake off habits that don’t work.

Alas, this list of “suggestions” that I wrote for the incoming Obama Administration - in 2009 - never got a glance from anyone in political power.   Any one of them might have made a difference… and I have new ones!  And zero hope that anyone will listen to sapient ideas.

 == Evonomics - Economics ==

At the Evonomics site, moderate liberal economists and scholars are the ones who nowadays most discuss Adam Smith – the “first liberal” -- who is both touted by name and utterly betrayed by those on the right. Smith would have had no truck with “libertarians” who recite the catechism that “all government and regulation is evil,” nor with so-called capitalists who conspire to achieve monopoly and other suppressions of competition. Indeed, the C-Word is almost never used anymore, in either community. But at Evonomics, the discussion is all about how to recover the blessings and cornucopia of truly flat-fair-open-creative-competitive market systems.

(Likewise, our Founders would have been enraged by the “Tea Party” and its cant that the American Revolution was against government or even taxes, when the biggest grievance, by far, was getting ripped off by the King and his oligarch cronies.)

Take this article by David Sloan Wilson, who denounces the standard definition of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Clearly after 6000 years of recorded history, we know that human beings are human, and hence will use power to cheat. The one time we got truly flat-fair-open-creative-competitive markets is when a society first cooperated to set up rules and structures that damped down the cheating. 

For example, the American Founders seized half the land in the colonies from the lordly families that owned it and redistributed the land to the masses. They meddled in property rights by banning primogeniture and demanding that estates be broken up equally among a family's children. Both interventions were more radical than anything attempted by Franklin Roosevelt, as was a later generation’s expropriation and liberation of millions of slaves.

Wilson says we can grasp Smith’s real lesson by looking at society operating on two levels, one that’s about cooperation and deliberation and negotiated planning about what kind of rules our democracy and markets will operate under – and hence a level that is not blind.

But then, each of us becomes a consumer or producer participating in the resulting markets. And at that level, we cannot be all-knowing or even very knowing, at all! Instead, as commended by the economist-doyen of the right – who is regularly betrayed and misquoted by today’s right – Friedrich Hayek, market wisdom arises from the amalgamated interactions of millions of players, each with partial knowledge and lots of self-interest as motivation.

Wilson puts it succinctly: “As designers of large-scale social systems and as participants in the social systems that we design. As participants, we don’t need to have the welfare of the whole system in mind, but as designers we do.”

Not only can competition not thrive without macro-level cooperation, to prevent monopoly, oligarchy and cheating, but cooperation-negotiation is essential – listening to science – for society to decide which externalities – like resource and environmental protection – must be tuned into the market, for our descendants to thrive. This is not anti-market or anti-competitive. It is called sapience. It is the whole reason why we have prefrontal lobes and interest in the future and science fiction!

Read the article, if you want to understand why – if he were alive today, Adam Smith would be a Democrat… though a quirky one, critical of some standard “liberal” positions, in favor of some that are more classically “Liberal.”

And see my own earlier riff on similar matters:  "Allocation vs Markets" - an ancient struggle with strange modern implications,” from 2006.

== Vanity has a price == 

How I hate the fact that we have been dragged down to the level of physical mockery.  But this is street fighting and they started it. So...

No wonder he wages war on science.  Now it’s verified. Trump’s hand length of 7.25 inches hovers around the 25th percentile of hand length among military men. A meta-analysis of studies from the Georgia Tech Research Institute places Trump’s hands below the 50th percentile. And the 1988 Anthropomorphic Survey of U.S. Personnel, used frequently by the Ergonomic Center of North Carolina, places Trump’s hands at the 15th percentile. Trump is, medically speaking, short-fingered. Where did they get the data?  Madame Tussauds - the famed waxworks museum - had measured Trump for a life-sized sculpture, which was removed from their New York City location in 2011. But Trump’s handprint itself, which was cast in bronze, has for the entirety of the presidential election been displayed prominently in front of the Tussauds museum in Times Square.

Had he simply shrugged and laughed about this, it all would have blown over long ago, especially given his 6’2” height. Alas, vanity is his un-doing. The firing of FBI Director Comey is said to have derived in part from Comey’s towering height. Trump’s recent height inflation to 6’3 in the medical report was just enough to let his down-reported weight – 239 pounds – fall 1 lb below “obese.” Had any of this been done by any democratic politician, it would be an endless scandal… as with the news items pouring from the House of Two Scoops, almost daily.

But that’s the point! The news cycle is so rapid that – in the words of Trevor Noah – “We ain’t got time for that.” At least the 40% of Americans enslaved by Rupert Murdoch don’t.

== Moving on ==

Pennsylvanians! Do your duty. Conor Lamb: This 33 year old retired Marine officer, federal prosecutor and devout Catholic has a chance to win a special election vs the GOP candidate ("I'm more Trump than Trump!") in a solid-red district in Pennsylvania, where the former Republican rep had to resign... caught ordering his mistress to get an abortion. Conor Lamb is everything (it seems) that I asked for, when I said we must run sane, pro-science and fact, purple ex-officers in every red district in America. Every State Assembly seat. Every State Senate, City Council and dogcatcher position.

If that means liberals in all those places will then have to negotiate with sane, decent, calm, science-respecting, rights-progressive, environmentally-responsible -- but temperamentally conservative crewcut types who sometimes go hunting -- instead of confronting the insane, fact-hating traitor-shills of Rupert Murdoch... then live with that! See my essay calling for a "Year of Colonels."

American conservatism won't die, but it can be shaken out of its current, nightmare fever or jibbering lunacy.

A broad front... a Big Tent... and the intelligence to run the right people in each district... that's how the Union will win this phase (number 8) of the American Civil War against a risen Confederacy that's absolutely (as always) treason.


Paul SB said...

In years of studying archaeology, it became obvious that the societies that made it through a crisis and kept chugging along for centuries were the ones that adapted and changed. The ones that died miserable deaths in conflagration were the ones that responded to a crisis by doing the same thing harder, intensifying the very behaviors that put them on shaky ground in the first place. I like to use the Maya as an example because we know them more from their physical remains than from any written history. History is always written with a slant, an agenda that hides as much as it reveals, but if you understand how to read the material record it can tell stories the leaders of nations would prefer were kept quiet. Mayan agriculture was taxed to the breaking point to build temples to the gods who were thought to bring prosperity to society, and every Maya city competed with every other to build the biggest, most splendid temples, and to reproduce the biggest slave labor force to build them. The intensification of their agriculture that made this competition possible depleted their soils, reduced crop yields and brought about mass starvation. The response? Build bigger, more splendid temples. You can see where that went.

Reality. The old Cold War mentality of Capitalism vs Communism is not serving civilization. If we continue trying to grow the economy indefinitely we will have civilization-destroying problems. We already know what some of these problems are, because we are already facing them. The grow-or-die mentality is leading to grow-and-die. In nature things grow to a point of maturity, then live in meta-stable dynamic equilibrium. The only things that grow beyond maturity are obesity and cancer, and what do those do to their hosts? As long as we keep trying to frame our issues the way they did back int he Cold War, we are only going to dig our graves deeper.

Jon S. said...

"If we continue trying to grow the economy indefinitely we will have civilization-destroying problems. We already know what some of these problems are, because we are already facing them. The grow-or-die mentality is leading to grow-and-die."

That's one of the points that's made rather subtly in the backstory of the Fallout series of games. As part of the background, the history splits from ours at the invention of the transistor; they developed a new version of a vacuum tube instead. This led to, among other things, an intense Cold-War-style rivalry with China, one result of which was the freezing of society in the mode of the 1950s or early 1960s (exemplified by the music played on the in-game radio stations). It became politically important in the US to maintain the purity of Capitalism, resulting in the Resource Wars of the mid-21st century as the world started to run out of oil, coal, and drinkable water, and massive inflation in prices (as an example, an ad for a Chryslus Corvega specifies its price at "only $1,500,000!", and you can find fueling stations with 200-year-old signs advertising prices of $198.99/gal). (Then, of course, this culminated in the Great War, and our story picks up almost a hundred years later when someone has to venture out of Shelter Vault 13 to find parts needed to repair the Vault's water filter...)

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross posted a link at the tail end of the previous comments which is too good to miss. In the interest of further dissemination, here it is again.

Interesting activities on the "Political Orphans" site

Chris Ladd did a piece for Forbes that was a little too honest so they deleted it

A highlight:

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

Tim H. said...

LarryHart, having also read that essay, two questions come to mind, "Might there be a way to separate conservatives from nostalgia for the lost cause?" and "How might southern preachers be convinced that they can be free now?".

Lloyd Flack said...

Another place that the tax cuts are going to go is into further inflating real estate prices. Which of course will make it more difficult for the less wealthy to afford accommodation.

Lloyd Flack said...

Trump has implied that he sacked Tillerson because Tillerson wanted to keep the nuclear agreement with Iran. Which does lend support to the idea that Trump is spoiling for a fight with Iran. He certainly seems to want the glory of a war that he can justify.

john fremont said...

@Lloyd. You're not the only one thinking this way.

Pompeo to @StateDept means war w Iran is on a fast track, now. Tillerson was no fan of pulling out of #IranDeal. Pompeo sees it differently. @realDonaldTrump has been itching to take on Iran. Mattis may be last bulwark against Iran War, but he's now outnumbered. Very scary stuff.

Twitter feed of
Major General Paul Eaton (Ret.)

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin, re: war with Iran...

Do you still contend that Pence would be worse? Serious question.

Ahcuah said...

Regarding reneging on the Iran deal (and boy did Dr. Brin see this coming), if you are Kim Jung Un, there is no way this will make him think he can trust Trump in the least.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ in the previous comments:

I waffle a bit when it comes to whether parties should be able to exclude other voters. I'm not convinced parties should have the power to dictate who gets to vote when it comes to putting people on the general ballot.

I also waffle because who is it that gets to decide whether you are a participating member of the Democratic or Republican Party? Who watches the watchmen?

OTOH, it seems just as presumptuous for anyone, regardless of affiliation or inclination, to decide who the party should nominate. It's not just the potential for mischief, but the short-term thinking involved. Most voters voted for Hillary or Bernie based on which they liked better, not based on who they thought could best be elected in November.

Your state's jungle system does (IMHO) a better job of threading the needle than open party primaries do. The only thing I would caution is to avoid the case where (say) thirteen Democrats and two Republicans run in the primary, and the two Republicans are the ones to go on.

That's why I'd like to see a system in which, if no candidate has 50%, the candidates themselves are allowed to delegate the votes that they received to a different candidate. This is different from Instant Runoff in the sense that the candidate owns, and can trade, his own votes. The interpretation of that is, "Gary Johnson is my favorite candidate. If he can't win, then I at least want him helping to decide the winner."

In the California example above, the Democrats could pool their votes, guaranteeing that at least one Democrat would be represented in the runoff. Or Jill Stein could have given her votes from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to Hillary, and we'd still live in a first-world country.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | If we continue trying to grow the economy indefinitely we will have civilization-destroying problems.

In one breath you say this and in another you say

...the societies that made it through a crisis and kept chugging along for centuries were the ones that adapted and changed

I put it to you that we are one that adapts and changes.

In nature things grow to a point of maturity, then live in meta-stable dynamic equilibrium.

Yes... in any one generation. When the next generation takes over, though, they have come up through immaturity to maturity once again. One CAN have a series of S curves that don't sum to a macro-sized S curve.

But you are thinking on the macro-scale, right? Our civilization should have a mature state beyond which we should not grow because we risk collapse and death?

I put to you that we don't know what maturity looks like for this civilization. Ours is one-of-a-kind so far. We DO know what feudal maturity looks like. Misery for the Masses. From our position of ignorance, I don't see how we could know when to stop to hit the sweet-spot you think is there.

I put to you also that the sweet-spot is an illusion born of a weak analogy on your part. You are comparing our civilization with past civilizations and making predictions. That IS what analogies are for, but when the analogy is weak, its predictive power is weak... or worse.

Anonymous said...

People of color and Hispanics were killed with the use of bombs. The authorities say that the bombs were sophisticated, so we can assume that the one who made them is a professional assassin or a former member of the special forces.
Racial hatred is obviously the reason for the attacks. This is the logical result of Donald Trump's efforts to incite racial hatred. Donald has protected and encouraged the neo-Nazi groups again and again. ¡Remember that Stephen Bannon was the right hand of Donald Trump, until Donald decided to appear aloof, realizing that Bannon gave him a very bad image! But that distancing does not mean that Donald is not supporting the Nazis by secretly funding them with government funds. ¿How can we know if Donald has been infiltrating the CIA and the FBI with psychopathic agents from the right-wing groups? How could we realize what secret training and materials could be delivered to the agents of the right-wing groups under Donald Trump's secret direct orders? Simply, we can only see the tip of the Iceberg.



LarryHart said...


Remember that Stephen Bannon was the right hand of Donald Trump, until Donald decided to appear aloof, realizing that Bannon gave him a very bad image!

Bannon wasn't fired because of his Nazi image. It was because he acknowledged Trump as the buffoon he is in that "Fire and Fury" book.

Paul SB said...


I will admit that the weather has been a bit gloomy lately, and that puts me in an especially gloomy mindset. However, I challenge you to name a major civilization that did consider itself unique, powerful and capable of lasting for a millennia or more. The attitude is akin to many teens - especially male teens - who think they already know everything that matters and that they are invincible. Is America adapting and changing with the times? Somewhat. The government just seems to vacillate between fools who don't seem to be able to apply the lessons of history, and fools who deliberately distort the lessons of history for their own selfish ends. There are important ways in which society itself is changing in spite of our institutions. For one, the birth rates are dropping and the population is plateauing. Presumably this has the potential to at least reduce the extent to which it destroys its own infrastructure - soils its own nest, as it were. Technologies are becoming more energy efficient, and the culture is beginning to adopt some foreign memes that can help counter the massive mental health damage we cause ourselves through hyper-competitiveness and a culture of rampant and usually self-destructive shaming.

But will it be enough, or will we be a day late and a dollar short. At least a third of the population is Hell-bent on ensuring that we are, and most of the rest a long way from even imagining what will be needed to make it through this century. It feels like the spoon against the tide has grown to shovel size. Maybe we can build it up into a seawall, maybe not.

The point is not to be doomy-gloomy and discourage people from trying. The point is to convince people that we cannot afford to keep making the same mistakes again and again. As the place gets more crowded the consequences grow, and sure, growth also means more potential for innovators who can solve these problems and adapt. The problem with that theory is encapsulated in that US Net Wealth graph Dr. Brin put up a couple months ago. If 90% of the people are struggling just to survive - as was true for most of the rest of history with its exploitative oligarchs, aristocrats and priesthoods - you don't have a lot of people who are capable of innovating, or of bringing a useful idea to market. The markets have been rigged.

The two lines you quoted which you suggest are contradictory are not. If we continue doing things the Mayan way, trying the same tax cuts for the billionaires and building megachurches, it's not going to happen. Adaptation and innovation are necessary for survival, not blind retrenchment in the system that is currently failing (cue Moby "Lost in the World"). Survival might require us to shed any or all of our sacred cattle, capitalism, profit motive, radical individualism, the self-destructive aspects of machismo, the denial of anything but personal responsibility and extenuating circumstances, use of social groups as scapegoats to avoid having to actually solve problems, any number of things that most people either take for granted or freak out about the supposed "War on ." Doing the same thing harder is very unlikely to do anything but break the system.

David Smelser said...

I agree that we need some method of reallocating votes.

I've got too much suspicion of authority to have losing candidates do post-election horse trading for votes. I'd rather have the voters say Hillary if not Jill Stein than for Jill Stein to insist on a position in Hillary's administration (cabinet or ambassador) in exchange for votes.

I'd prefer ranked choice voting in the primary to bring the results down to a reasonable number (maybe 4 which is twice the California jungle system limit) and then ranked choice in the general to get it down to one.

Twominds said...


challenge you to name a major civilization that did consider itself unique, powerful and capable of lasting for a millennia or more



Paul SB said...


Rome - they did last quite a long time, but most of that was when they were still kind of small-time lords of Tyrrhenian. Once they started to expand out and become an empire they had to pretty much jettison their democracy and plurality, but even having a big Man/Priest on the throne only prolonged their demise by a few centuries. And they did exactly what I was talking about with trying to do the same thing but harder. Barely a century before the collapse they returned to religious despotism under the banner of what seemed to them like a new god.

China - which one? Is today's Post-Communist China the same civilization that began in the Shang all those millennia ago, or does it just have the same name? Chinese civilization collapsed several times, and was conquered twice by petty kingdoms that previously trembled before them. The people are largely the descendants of that first Chinese civilization, but today's civilization is a different civilization built in the same geographic region.

I'm sure Alfred will remind us of McCloskey's argument about how the world changed when the merchants were honored instead of the aristocrats. But will continuing to judge people based on the groups they belong to continue to serve indefinitely? Some of us are getting the impression that there is something much more useful to focus on than group membership - and that is the nature of any individual. If a merchant is a decent person and not a crook - the merchant deserves honor for the person's decency, not for being a business person. And if a person is a total dirtbag, membership in a group should not be used as reason to give the benefit of the doubt and let them slide. They will slide away with everything we own, leaving us destitute and defenseless as the Republicans are doing right now, and have been since Eisenhower left office.

David Brin said...

LarryHart said...

David Smelser:

I'd rather have the voters say Hillary if not Jill Stein than for Jill Stein to insist on a position in Hillary's administration (cabinet or ambassador) in exchange for votes.

I see your point, but I have a reason for prefering my pseudo-coalition-government system.

With Instant Runoff Voting, a vote for (say) Jill Stein is essentially a throwaway. "I know she won't win, but I can satisfy my principles by voting for her instead of Hillary. But I'll make Hillary my second choice so Trump won't win."

If the candidate gets to give her vote to someone else (and yes, ask for something in return), then a vote for Jill Stein actually means something. The more votes she accumulates, the more influence she has to pick the eventual winner. That means a platform or a government that will be that much more to Jill Stein's liking than it would have been if she didn't have those votes. So your vote for her isn't a throwaway. It means something.

In theory, Hillary could give her votes to Jill Stein too. I can't think of why she would do so, but it wouldn't be prohibited by the process. Maybe there would be a bargain that would make such an agreement worthwhile. I like the fact that it could go that way, however unlikely.

Actual Instant Runoff Voting is preferable to what we have in races with more than two candidates, but it's not the duh-obvious solution everyone thinks it is. It really just inverts the pyramid, eliminating the candidate with the least votes rather than electing the one with the most. What if almost no one voted for Gary Johnson as a first choice, but practically everyone had him as second choice. Is it really--objectively--fair that he's the one knocked out of the race on the first round? The devil is in the details.

Jon S. said...

PaulSB, you asked for a major civilization that considered itself capable of lasting for a millennium or more. That's quite a few, including the Roman Empire and all the different variations of China. Few civilizations, in my experience (admittedly largely limited to reading of them), ever even considered the possibility that they might not last. Why would one go to the trouble of building a civilization with an expiration date, after all?

LarryHart said...

Jon S:

PaulSB, you asked for a major civilization that considered itself capable of lasting for a millennium or more.

I know that's what he said, but I took it as one of Paul's famous typos--that there was supposed to be a "not" in there.

Captain America:

"That's it. Only one of us is going to walk out of here under his own power..."

"...And it WON'T BE ME!"

LarryHart said...

I don't see an online link to the story, but I just saw a WGN TV news blurb about the planned school "walkouts" tomorrow. The story mentioned that different school districts are handling this in different ways (I know my daughter's school is ok with it as long as the kids come back afterwards). But apparently, a Republican organization is suing the Chicago public school district for allowing grades 5-8 to participate in the walkout.

The spokesman I saw on tv said that he's ok with high school students doing the walkout on their own, but that it is wrong to involve elementary students and "for teachers and principals to engage in political indoctrination."

Unless this guy was on the side of atheist students refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God", I have to assume that what he means is that it is inappropriate for Democrats to indoctrinate our children, because doing so is the natural privilege of Republicans.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | Every barbarian group thinks they are unique and powerful… until they run up against someone who demonstrates the self-delusion. Yah. I get that. The thing is we are NOT a civilization in the manner of the Romans and Chinese let alone the Egyptians.

Let’s start with a few bits of context. In my opinion, the Chinese civilization started long, long ago is still alive today. it cycles, but it is a survivor. It is the oldest one on the planet. The other civilization alive today is The West. it is brand spankin’ new and has had more than one center as each former core grew into old age and another took over. it looks more like a forest than a mountain. I do NOT think of this civilization as Pax Americana. it is simply that which emerged from Europe’s lowlands and makes us collectively able to challenge the Chinese. Rome was not part of it. Spain’s empire was not part of it. England’s was. So was the Dutch empire. So is ours. The cores that count are the ones that turned formerly pyramid-shaped societies into diamond-shaped ones. Therefore, for the survival of The West, it is not necessary that the US remain its strongest component. What matters is that The Enlightenment survives since that is the diamond cutting tool.

While I’m sure you are more gloomy than I am, I am also convinced you aren’t trying to convince people to BE gloomy. I believe you are an advocate of The Enlightenment. You would have to go to great lengths to convince me you aren’t. Therefore, I simply assume you are aiming to call attention to dangers. What I’m doing in response is trying to help sharpen your arguments and tools.

As for David’s graphs, I think he is a little too bought into the dangers of inequality. There ARE dangers, but we don’t have 90% of the people struggling to survive. We have 90% struggling relative to a moving goalpost. Struggling to survive in the old days meant dirt floors and recurring famines twice each generation. Today in the US it means figuring out how to secure an income so one can live near where one works, pay for all the ‘necessities’, and keep the kids from falling below where you’ve managed to climb. Those struggling masses in the US are immensely wealthy if we did NOT use moving goal posts. We do, though, so we must also look at what their struggles create. They are NOT incapable of innovation or of causing it and though it sounds cold-hearted, struggle is part of how they do it.

We are only doing some things the Mayan way and after multiple failed attempts we occasionally adapt. Slavery was an ancient tradition accepted even in the West. Now it is treated harshly and only pockets of the institution survive. Our failure to deal with it was very ‘Mayan’, but we changed. When it comes to megachurches I have to smile, though. It’s a long, slow struggle, but wasn’t the first megachurch in Europe the one for the Roman Catholics? They RULED! Look what happened to them, though, in ‘The West’.

I’m supportive of your desire for us to survive, but you won’t succeed if you shed the sacred cattle at the heart of The Enlightenment. Instead, you’ll help us fall back to feudalism and I know you don’t want that. You NEED what McCloskey described to succeed in avoiding that. What isn’t clear is whether all that is enough to avoid some other catastrophe.

I encourage you to ponder The West and its uniqueness. I think we are unique and I think you need to own up to it if you want to improve your chances of defending us. With that realization, I think you’ll see how we break the traditionalists who want to do the same thing only harder. You won’t like how slow the process is or how unpredictable it is, but the fact that it IS moving forward should provide some comfort on a gloomy day. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Paul SB | I'm sure Alfred will remind us of McCloskey's argument about how the world changed when the merchants were honored instead of the aristocrats.

What we all did is far, far more dramatic than that. The aristocrats relied on the peasant class to provide the numbers that rationalized their two ethical codes. When the merchants (a very tiny clade compared to the peasants) began to honor themselves, they imagined themselves a bit like aristocrats, but with one important exception. They stayed in trade where true aristocrats avoided mercantile behavior as if it gave one koodies. For the merchants to do this as they grew richer, they had to lift some of the peasants. Fast forward about three generations and the peasantry became depleted. Without the peasantry, the real aristocrats couldn’t hold and the peasantry essentially vanished.

David’s description of diamond-shaped societies is McCloskey’s description of the vanishing peasantry. The bourgeoisie did not plan this and probably would have reacted badly if some time traveller had told them it would work out this way. THEY weren’t the unwashed masses, right? They were townspeople. They were not the dirt grubbers. Pfft! As they grew rich, though, they did what Adam Smith described using the invisible hand and the peasantry effectively vanished. So did the twice-per-generation famines. And the plagues. And slavery… mostly… still working on that in some places.

TCB said...

I hear Trump is going to get his military parade in Washington later this year (remember folks, in America military parades are a tradition only when celebrating the END of a war, not just because you like to see tanks in the streets).

Speaking of which, the planners have decided not to have tanks, only rubber-tired vehicles, armored cars and such, so as not to tear up the tarmacadam. I say, YES to tanks in the parade! Let those sixty ton Abrams tanks rend great gouges in the pavement all up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, down the Mall, maybe right over a few cherry trees. And leave it that way. Don't even begin repairs until responsible people are running the nation again.

Sometimes you need a scar to remember the mistake.

TCB said...

Heads up! Professor Hawking has left the building. Pour a beer on the ground.

Paul SB said...

Jon & Larry,

"I know that's what he said, but I took it as one of Paul's famous typos..."
- I guess there are much worse ways to gain my 15 minutes of fame. The Fickle Fingers of Doom aren't anywhere near as bad as being the guy who contradicts absolutely everything anyone says and twists their words to make them something they aren't. I'm only jacking up my own words.

"Why would one go to the trouble of building a civilization with an expiration date, after all?"
- They don't. The thing is, people don't go to the trouble of building civilizations at all. People compete with each other to become the biggest Big Man in their village, then they try to control other villages so they can be the biggest Big Man ever, and when they re old and ready to expire they try to manipulate public opinion so they will accept his son as the next chief. Once you have this nascent monarchy we call a chiefdom, it doesn't take a lot of movement down that same path to have the familiar agricultural tyranny we know so well from history. Civilization was not anyone's goal.

Bummer about the Wheelchair Guy, but then, he managed to make it a long time for his condition.

Paul SB said...


You mostly understand what I am getting at, but you are missing one thing: you said that Dr. Brin is too concerned about inequality, but inequality is exactly what a hierarchical pyramid is made from. This system that slowly brought the peasantry up to a more tolerable standard of living is reversing itself, and this nation (among others) is sinking back down into exactly the rigid hierarchy that the Enlightenment is meant to counter. There are hopeful signs, yes, but continuing to treat the Martin Shkreli's of the world as if they were angels to be admired and emulated is not one of them. It is that very mentality - that conservative, reactionary mentality that values the strong (the "winners") over human decency (the "losers") that keeps putting these same gangs of thieves back on the throne. It's raining where I live, and there are tens of thousands of people who don't even have roof over their heads because of our glorious ever-growing capitalist economy. If we keep going down that road that McCloskey describes, it isn't going to lead us to a glorious utopia of happy merchants living peacefully, paying fair wages and treating their fellow human beings like they are human beings instead of places to vent their frustrations, then blaming them for their injuries. It will simply lead us back to the same old oligarchy, though the names and faces might vary.

Lloyd Flack said...

Trump reminds me a lot of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He is bellicose, has a short attention span, is impulsive and does not understand others anywhere near as well as he thinks he does.
Wilhelm did not intend to bring about the First World War but he bears much of the responsibility. I think Trump is playing brinksmanship games with North Korea and Iran. The danger is that he does not simply want to end or contain the dangers that they represent. He wants to be a winner as he sees it and that means making them into loosers. He wants a solution that involves humiliating them and this is dangerous.
I really want to be wrong here.

Paul SB said...

Of course to Kaiser Gropehelm and his worshipers brinksmanship shows that he is bold and decisive, tough on the bad guys and won't take the shit that weenie-boy Obama did, letting the whole world walk over us. If we let a businessman run the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis there's a fair chance none of us would be here today. And this is exactly the problem - capitalism encourages people to value the most destructive and dangerous of personality traits. To a third of the nation "Crooked Hillary" was so evil they could believe she would run a prostitution ring out of the basement of a basement less pizzeria because she is a woman who has ambition. The Grope, on the other hand, is admired for his "ambition" (unbridled megalomania) because he's male, and a successful businessman (well, sort of - okay, not really, but he loudly proclaims that he is). Let's add old-fashioned, conservative prejudice to the delusion that businessmen are there to help us, and tell me why I should respect the opinions of people who back nightmares like this.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Pennsylvanians! Do your duty. Conor Lamb: This 33 year old retired Marine officer, federal prosecutor and devout Catholic has a chance to win a special election vs the GOP candidate ("I'm more Trump than Trump!") in a solid-red district in Pennsylvania, where the former Republican rep had to resign... caught ordering his mistress to get an abortion. Conor Lamb is everything (it seems) that I asked for, when I said we must run sane, pro-science and fact, purple ex-officers in every red district in America. Every State Assembly seat. Every State Senate, City Council and dogcatcher position.

Last night's race is still too close to call--separated by a few hundred votes with absentee ballots still to be counted. Conor Lamb is the one in the lead, though, which in itself is a big friggin' deal in this gerrymandered district that Trump won by 20+ perecent.

It probably didn't help the Republicans that their candidate is anti-union. The steelworkers' union (a supporter of the Trump tariff on steel) and the coal miners' unions (theoretically favorable toward Trump policies) were firmly on the side of the pro-union Democrat. They apparently understand the difference between rhetoric and actions.

Best of all, shades of Roy Moore, Trump's campaigning can't bring his guys across the finish line. Maybe some formerly-reasonable Republican congressmen will notice that they don't need to have Trump's backing, and in fact his approval might actually hurt them.

LarryHart said...


Heads up! Professor Hawking has left the building. Pour a beer on the ground.

I hesitate to delve too deeply into Hawking remembrances yet, because I suspect Dr Brin might have a Hawking post soon.

LarryHart said...

House Democrats also did not wait for a final [Pennsylvania-18] count to claim victory,...

Good to see Democrats taking a lesson from the 2000 Bush campaign. Make sure you've never lost the lead, despite the other guy closing in, and jump in to declare victory. Apparently, possession is 9/10 of the law.

I wonder if Trump has had so much losing, he's tired of losing yet. :)

Tim H. said...

I thought The Guardian had a good obituary on Stephen Hawking:
There goes a man who understood so much of the nature of the universe, he could explain it to a lay audience.

LarryHart said...

Standing next to Mr. Trump’s eldest son at a firehouse, Mr. Saccone said Democrats were energized by a hatred for the president, “a hatred for our country” and “a hatred for God.”

He sounds like Wayne LaPierre ranting about how liberals and Democrats hate our freedoms. Talk about doing the same thing but harder when it clearly doesn't work this time! Maybe Republicans will be the 'Mayans' of our generation.

Republicans hoped [emphasis mine] that stamping Mr. Trump’s brand on the race would help mobilize pro-Trump voters who are otherwise mostly tuned out of politics.

How's that hopey changey thing working out for them?

But the president’s presence most likely cut both ways, energizing Democrats and disaffected moderates, as well as Mr. Trump’s base.

Y'know, Republicans might rue the day they got Trump illegitimately installed in the White House. President Hillary would have been stymied by a Republican congress, and would probably have energized their base every bit as much as Benedict Donald is doing for ours.

Darrell E said...

But he has the best losses!

LarryHart said...

Strangely enough, my favorite memory of Steven Hawking was when he guest starred as himself--well, actually as a holodeck recreation of himself--playing poker with Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Data on Star Trek TNG. The vignette featured Einstein unable to figure out how to match the amount he's been raised, leading a frustrated Newton to ask, "Can't you do simple arithmetic?!!"

The scene ends with Einstein triumphantly announcing to Hawking that all of the quantum fluctuations in the universe won't be able to change Hawking's cards into a hand that will beat Einstein's, to which Hawking turns over his (winning) hand and smirks, "Wrong again, Albert!"

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

But he [Trump] has the best losses!


According to Bill Press this morning, the White House is spinning Pennsylvania as, "We were expecting a blowout loss, and only Trump's intervention made it as close as it was!"

Sarah Huckabee Saddlebags is apparently the new Baghdad Bob (though I preferred that guy's other nickname "Comical Ali").

David Smelser said...

LarryHart, I'm calling bull sh*t on your statement that "with Instant Runoff Voting, a vote for (say) Jill Stein is essentially a throwaway."

A vote is a throw away if it doesn't influence the result of the election. In both your mechanic and my mechanic, the vote for Stein ultimately affects the results of the election (Hillary wins instead of Trump), so neither is a throw away.

LarryHart said...

@David Smelser,

"Bullsh*t"? Harsh much?

See, in the IRV scenario, it's the fact that Hillary was your second choice that influences the election. That's all I'm saying. A first vote for Jill Stein has no more influence on the outcome than a first vote for Gary Johnson or whatshisname from Utah. Unless your fist choice actually has a chance of winning, the only thing that affects the outcome is your next choice.

(In fact, what if Jill Stein actually gets more votes than say Gary Johnson does, and so Johnson is the first one kicked off the island. His second-choice voters might actually give the election to Trump, even though more of the Stein voters' had Hillary as their second choice. So IRV can lead to perverse outcomes, where your choice of the candidates most likely to actually win is suppressed because your first choice doesn't lose quickly enough.)

In my scenario, your vote for Jill Stein has direct bearing on Jill Stein. She acquires more political capital the more votes she has (because she has that many more votes to give to Hillary). That's what I was getting at--not that my way was superior in the final outcome, but that my way gave a benefit of voting for an underdog to that underdog which is not the case with IRV.

But I'm not trying to "beat" you at this argument. We're engaging in exactly the kind of science that Dr Brin talks about--you point out my flaws and I point out yours, and maybe we reach a better synthesis. "Bullsh*t" shouldn't enter into it.

Paul SB said...


It was clear to me that, in spite of his prosthetic voice box, Hawking was able to do what old Uncle Albert insisted on with his line that went, "If you can't explain it to a six-year old, you don't really understand it yourself." I made that into a poster in my classroom and had students write their own definitions for vocabulary words that had to be 6-year old level.

occam's comic said...

There is an article on the Atlantic site that is interesting:

Over the past 40 or so years, the U.S. has been fragmenting into two parallel societies, which I’ll call Trickle-Down America and Stagnant America. Each one looks upon the other with suspicion and hostility. Trickle-Down America is the America of our biggest metropolitan areas, and it is defined by comparatively high levels of density, diversity, and economic inequality. Importantly, the richest people in Trickle-Down America are typically white, while the service-sector workers who enable them to work longer hours are disproportionately brown and black. Stagnant America can be found in rural regions, small cities and towns, and outer suburbs across the country. This America is largely white and relatively equal, though it too is scarred by poverty, particularly among Hispanics and blacks. America’s most and least educated workers are concentrated in Trickle-Down America, while Stagnant America is home to most of America’s working- and middle-class white voters.

Is Trickle-Down America morally superior to Stagnant America? A good starting point is to reflect on the sources of Trickle-Down America’s wealth. In New York City, my hometown, the local economy has long been dominated by the financial-services sector, which has grown mightily in recent decades. Has the financialization of the U.S. economy been an unadulterated good for the country as a whole? There are many thoughtful people who’d argue otherwise. Indeed, some argue that rents flowing to the financial sector have badly distorted the U.S. economy, and have contributed to the devastation of tradeable sector employment in Stagnant America. Corporations headquartered in America’s cosmopolitan cities have profited immensely from the emergence of a globalized division of labor. Yet many of these same multinationals have pioneered tax-avoidance strategies that have made it harder for the federal government to compensate those who’ve lost out with globalization, all while deploying their considerable influence to get the U.S. government to pressure other countries to adopt intellectual-property protections that serve their interests. And then there is the federal government itself, and its vast, growing army of private administrative proxies—contractors, non-profits dependent on public subsidies, and the like—that has helped make Washington, D.C., and its environs one of the country’s most affluent and educated regions. It’s hard to disentangle exactly how much of Trickle-Down America’s success relative to Stagnant America is a product of straightforward rent-seeking. I certainly doubt that it accounts for all of it, or even most. But surely it accounts for some, and that should give Trickle-Down America’s champions pause. "

Deuxglass said...

A great light went out today but others will come and stand on his shoulders. The Quest continues.

Interesting that Trump’s hands came back up again. This is my take. Someone made a study once where he found a small correlation with hand size. Another study done a few years ago that says that there seems to be a slight correlation with height. I suppose being six feet or so would cancel out small hand size. I guess that also means that great height correlates with great member size. I would tend to agree because that would confirm my opinion that Comely was the biggest dick ever to head the FBI.

On a lighter note, I see our Age has very much similarities with the Hellenist Age. We have the same boiling cauldron of rapid scientific progress, mixing of peoples and cultures, dense commercial networks with specializations as well as the political and military competition between Great Powers. I wonder how it will pan out for us?

Deuxglass said...

sorry for the typo. It's James Comey I ment to say.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Hawkings was suffering a lot. He has got rid of the pain. Ray! I could not tell you my theory of the origin of the universe.

Valar Dohaeris.


Anonymous said...

Before the arrival of the clown Donald Pennywise to the United States; I remember that the greatest cause of American prosperity was that politicians did not steal everything. How did they achieve that? And now that an era of darkness came to the United States; How can they prevent Donald from stealing everything?
For a thorough understanding of this detail could be the key to preventing the destruction of the US economy at the hands of Manchurian agents.


Deuxglass said...


Can you give yourself a handle so that we can differentiate you from all the other Anonymous people or bots here?

occam's comic said...

so a war criminal for head of the CIA
a war monger for Secretary of Sate
and an near always wrong talking head as chief economic advisor.

This is what a Russian Puppet would do.

LarryHart said...


He does sign "Winter7" at the bottom of his posts.

Or were you talking to a different "Anonymous"?

Deuxglass said...


Thanks for pointing that out. Anonymous posts are fine but it would be better to start with a handle but that's just my opinion.

Treebeard said...

It looks like Trump has gone full neocon. But then so have the Democrats, who apparently now think George W. Bush was a great guy and Russia should be added to the Axis of Evil. Given that both parties like to bomb countries that threaten our dollar hegemo—I mean, our freedoms—too rubble, and Iran has just recently banned dollar trading, it almost certainly means that they are next in line for liberation via smart-bomb. However, since China and Russia agree that Iran is a key piece of real estate in the new Eurasian order, and they are both in the mood to confront the global hegemon, an attack on Iran has the makings of an apocalyptic showdown.

But let's not talk about all that. The more important point is that all this is further proof that a Confederacy of poor, deplorable trailer-dwellers are on the verge of overthrowing the reign of the elite coastal Virtue Signallers, and Darth Putin has taken control of the Republic. Or maybe it's further proof of Morris Berman's claim, that in America even the smart people are stupid—I can't decide.

Acacia H. said...

Remember when someone signed on as Entwives and handed our resident Ent his non-marching papers stating "you won't find us"?

Ah, happy times that, happy times. I'd actually copy-pasted it into my Facebook account and it came up in Memories a couple weeks ago. Let's see... ah, it was a year ago around March 8th.

Good luck finding us in a red state.
(We won't enable your bad habits)

*salutes Entwives* You may have passed in the night, but I hope you found shelter and good growing land in a Blue State.

Rob H.

occam's comic said...

Do we have enough time before the election to launch a full scale invasion of Iran?
I don't think so, but could be wrong.

So I guess it will be more likely that Trump will do showy but ineffective like some kind of extended bombing. Does anyone have any ideas what kind of military confrontation with Iran are being contemplated?

Improbus said...

According to Vanity Fair, Trump has been formulating a plan to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replace him with Scott Pruitt (EPA).

Remember what the Republican Senators told him would happen if he did that?

Trump is the best advertisement that the Democrat Party could have. To bad the DCCC is full of bought corporate shills.

LarryHart said...


The "entwives" response is in the comments of this archived post:

Tim H. said...

This was amusing and upbeat, though the implications seem unlikely:

Not holding my breath, but what a happy thought.

LarryHart said...

Perusing through old posts is kinda fun, especially when stumbling across gems:

In fact, to misquote our host, I'd say Boredom Is The Only Known Antidote To Procrastination.

Improbus said...


How can you be bored if you have a charged phone and an Internet connection? Procrastination will not be on the endangered species list any time soon.

TCB said...

N.B. Conor Lamb seems to have squeaked out a victory in the special election for the vacated Pennsylvania 18th seat in Congress, a district which (thanks in part to gerrymandering) was supposed to be about +11 for a generic Republican. But Trump is so toxic that he hasn't a shred of coattail, and, more relevantly for this venue:

Lamb is an ex-Marine, who made captain in active duty and major in the reserve. He may not be the 'crusty old colonel' Dr. Brin has said Democrats must run, but eh close enough to serve as an exemplar. Here's to sharp young captains!

LarryHart said...

Republican officials in Washington said they were likely to demand a recount through litigation, and the National Republican Congressional Committee put out a call for voters to report any irregularities in the balloting.

Apparently, getting the lawyers involved is only a bad thing when Democrats do it.

Y'know what, though? Even if the Republicans cheat and get Saccone declared the winner after all, what will that change? We've heard ad nauseum how the winner will only occupy one House seat until the next election, at which time, the district as it exists will no longer even exist. The whole point of the millions of dollars and visits by Trump and Pence on this one race is that Republicans can't afford to have their "safe" seats swing by more than 20 points. If it turns out to be Saccone by 200 instead of Lamb by 600, does that dynamic really change?

Especially since the election-night interest in the horse race is already over? If Saccone had pulled out a squeaker last night, Trump could have gone on tv and declared that it was the greatest margin of victory ever. But now? Yawn.

Russell Osterlund said...


If anyone watched and remembered the movie, "The Day After Tomorrow", it would appear that part of it is coming live to a real-life screen near you, viz.:

"Research hints at tipping point in the Atlantic’s currents
Lots of fresh water from melting ice could radically alter the Atlantic’s currents.

LarryHart said...

I suppose I should just ask my brother who lives in the state, but does Pennsylvania use voting machines that leave a paper trail? Otherwise, a "recount" is just going to be "One for Martin. Two for Martin."

And what "irregularities" are they alleging in the balloting? "We lost" doesn't rise to the level of irregularity in my book.

My own fantasy, which had nothing to do with this election in particular, is that we change election law to require a victor win by more than some agreed-upon margin of error (something as low as one half of one percent, maybe), or else the election is considered a tie, and some agreed-upon tie-breaker is utilized. I'd like to get away from the notion that a rounding error decides which candidate was really preferred over the other by the wisdom of the crowd. Such a change was inconceivable when Republicans were winning the close races, but now that they're the ones getting burned, it just might happen.

Smurphs said...

Larry, I don't know if they are used state-wide, but here on the other side of PA we use paper ballots that are optically scanned. Each ballot is numbered for audit purposes.

Acacia H. said...

Heyla Dr. Brin, I thought you might enjoy this short story someone posted in which they are depicting Humanity as the first species in the galaxy to move into the galaxy... and which act a bit akin to the Fae of our own legends.

it's not much of a read but I must admit I'm amused by the concept of humanity as space hermits that have super-advanced technology and just act on whims from time to time.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

I checked out that Ars Technica article that Russel posted, and I noticed a factor that they did not account for. When the temperature is cold enough to freeze seawater, the crystallization process excludes salts, effectively squeezing the salt out of the ice. This reduces the amount of water but keeps the same amount of salt in the equation, which increases the salinity of the water. It's this increased salinity that gets the water moving downward, then spreading out across the ocean floor. If it gets too warm for sea ice to form, you don't get that density change happening anymore. Oh boy!

Anonymous said...

Hummm ¿Does Donald want a military parade? I wonder if the soldiers who will participate in the parade saw the beginning of the film: "Escape from Absolom".

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | If I’ve given the impression that McCloskey would prefer homeless people stuck in the wet and cold as the rest of us prosper, that is my error. She would probably prefer we helped them in a manner that helped them help themselves. She’d probably use a variation on the ‘Teach a man to fish’ story while emphasizing that we must help and wrap up with an etymology discussion of some of the words used in the story. 8)

There will be no glorious utopia of happy merchants doing anything in particular. Merchants trade which means they don’t have what they want and they have to give up stuff of value to get it. Nobody really likes to do that. What we could have, though, is a system that does a lot better at helping people than any of the designed systems others have suggested and partially implemented. It is a system no one particularly likes, yet it works to lift people often enough to matter. No other system can claim that success and survive having its evidence scrutinized.

Inequality does indeed produce the pyramid/hierarchy that is a danger to us. The reason I argue that David is a bit too sensitive to this is that the pyramid is most dangerous when it becomes rigid. Is the inequality among us rigid? Are the same people at the top year after year? Are the same people at the bottom year after year? There is a moderate amount of evidence that some of the people at the top fall. There is a moderate amount of evidence that some people at the bottom are stuck. I’m more concerned with rigid hierarchy than I am with inequality. As long as people can move up and down, the gradient can actually help drive innovation.

You both are doing your bit as social t-cells. I get that and have no objection. I don’t agree on the magnitude of the danger, though. The gradient is useful… to a point. We go too far if inequality squashes hope and courage.

Tony Fisk said...

@paulSB that process is precisely what drives the Gulfstream and, yes, it is quietly shutting down, and Northern Europe is starting to get a wee bit chilly.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

and Northern Europe is starting to get a wee bit chilly.

As is the northeast part of North America, including the Great Lakes.

A few years ago, during a cold spring, viewers asked the WGN weather man, Tom Skilling, "Where is global warming?" He showed a map of the world, color coded to how much above (or below) normal the average temperatures were for the past year or so. In the Americas, there was one little blue (cold) sliver extending down from Hudson Bay to the Great Lakes region (where I am). The entire rest of the continent was yellow, orange, or bright red.

Tom's answer: "Everywhere except here."

LarryHart said...

Perusing the archives is addictive :)

This one has one of the longest comments sections in history. Contained within is a long discussion equating government with Asimov's Laws of Robotics, which eventually leads to the first mention of our sometimes-discussed "Three Laws of Corporatics".

As discussed above, the Laws of Robotics and the "laws of humanics" shouldn't be expected to correlate, since the former are designed to make tools useful and harmless, whereas the latter describe optimum interactions between sentient individuals possessing inalienable rights.

What makes MORE sense to me would be to recast Asimov Laws as the Three Laws of "Corporatics":

1) A corporation must do no harm to human beings

2) A corporation must act to fulfil its specified charter as long as doing so does not violate the First Law

3) A corporation must act to insure its continued viability [this is where maximizing profit MAY come into play] AS LONG AS DOING SO DOES NOT VIOLATE THE FIRST OR SECOND LAWS [emphasis mine]

I'd be up for a constitutional amendment requiring all corporate charters to be subject to those three laws.

Paul SB said...


Everywhere except here - climate systems adjust and redistribute heat all over the globe. If the world were a perfectly smooth ball, or had no land, that distribution would be even across the globe. But continents channel ocean currents and continents (especially mountainous ones) channel air currents, so distribution is never even. If someone pulls the snowball in Congress line, you can try explaining that. They might listen.


"The Day After Tomorrow" had the freeze happen in seven days, which is nice and symbolic, but scientifically ridiculous. A few decades would be more likely, but then, it would have made a really boring movie. No drama, no ticket sales. It's hard to say whether that makes it better for getting the message across or worse, though as movies go it was pretty inventive. Looks like Europe is going to have another "Little Ice Age" - as well as the other side of the Pond. But Atlantic climate cycles affect the Pacific side as well. If I had the money I would buy land in a high mountain valley and build a home there, one that is as self-sustaining as possible. The last time the Atlantic and Pacific cycles mixed this badly, around 800 years ago, much of the area between California and the Mississippi was abandoned for a couple centuries. The only places that got enough precipitation to support life were high mountain valleys. Here's a case where being "smart" in today's economic system doesn't mean squat because you can't do smart things without the financial resources (and most of the people who have the financial resources only care about ripping everyone else off and aren't smart enough to prepare for looming disaster. Can you say population bottle neck?

Paul SB said...


I got the impression from you that McCloskey wants to see improvement for the whole human race, and assumes that the way it has happened for the last few centuries will always work. That's the flaw in the argument. What works under one set of circumstances can be disastrous in another context. Be careful, though, using the "help them help themselves" line, as this is exactly how right-wing monsters phrase it when they take things like health care and financial support from people whose health issues make it impossible for them to help themselves, or whose economic situation is fairly hopeless. Most of the people who are screwed by Republican policies are not lazy freeloading bums, they are people who are working but the jobs available pay so little and the market has raised the cost of living so high they can barely pay rent and put food on the table - a situation that leads a whole lot of people to chronic medical problems that cost vast heaps of money they don't have access to, and often causes them to miss enough work they lose their jobs and are unlikely to be hired by anyone else afterward. Today they call them "the working poor." Reagan called them welfare leeches and convinced the nation that they are more of a threat than his military contractor buddies who billed the tax payers $150 for ordinary claw hammers and similar bilkings. Ah, but they were entrepreneurs, the life-blood of America and true patriots. Never mind that space shuttle the blew up. Only left-wing Commies want space exploration anyway.

"The gradient is useful… to a point. We go too far if inequality squashes hope and courage."

Been there, done that. If you belong in the top 10%, you have plenty of reason to hope and be courageous. If you don't, you're screwed. Sixty years ago the top 70% of people had reason for hope and courage, but then we started electing thieving Republicans. Once Reagan's tax meddling was set, the whole country was set down the long decline into tyranny and poverty. ironic how places where McCloskey's pattern started late are slowly rising out of Third World status, while we are sinking into it. Where will those other countries be after a couple hundred years of emulating America?

Ah, but you live in sunny Ventura, surrounded by those 10%ers who are making it. I've spent my life mostly looking at the other end.

LarryHart said...


But continents channel ocean currents and continents (especially mountainous ones) channel air currents, so distribution is never even. If someone pulls the snowball in Congress line, you can try explaining that. They might listen.

No, they won't. :)

In 2010, there was a big snowstorm in Washington DC. Right-wingers in congress insisted that that put an end to all this talk of global warming. My formerly-sane conservative buddy on the "Cerebus" list--who really should know better--repeated this argument as a vindication of Republican philosophy.

It was up to me to point out the two glaringly obvious flaws in that argument. One--that while it appeals to the visceral to argue "Snow is a cold thing. Therefore, more snow means more cooling," that is simply not the case. You get bigger snowstorms (more humidity) at temperatures just barely cold enough for snow than you do at sub-zero temps. So bigger snowstorms might be a sign of warming. Two--that at the same time it was snowing in Washington DC, the winter Olympics in Vancouver were spending incredible effort to produce artificial snow for the events requiring it, because the winter temperatures up in western Canada were in the 40s and 50s, even in the mountains.

kvs said...

As a member of the 18th district I can say that most of the counties (there are four counties in the district) use voting machines with no optical backup. Locally this replaces a mechanical voting machine with no way to do recounts, but apparently it was simple enough that the party representatives could tell that it was properly set up.

Lamb lives in Mount Lebanon (as do I), which in just on the border of new district 17, which is relatively balanced and competitive.

occam's comic said...

It probably wont matter that the woman chosen to head the CIA is torture using war criminal who destroyed the evidence of her crime.
Americans love torture, 63% of all Americans support the use of torture.


Just more evidence that the American people and the government that represents them are far too immoral to responsibly lead the world as its only superpower. We are a war mongering, torture loving people who live for instant gratification for themselves and screw everyone else. The evil shit we are doing is going to come back on us.

LarryHart said...

@occam's comic:

Americans love torture, 63% of all Americans support the use of torture.

I think it's more accurate to say that Republicans love torture.

But as America seems to defer to Republicans, that may be a moot point. More's the pity.

David Brin said...

I have been traveling and will be tuning in here only sporadically for the next three weeks or so. Though I hope/expect to post a few blogs and I hope the community will carry on. But a few notes here:

1. Conor Lamb’s PA victory is vastly more important than even avid pundits say. Because it legitimizes the ‘colonels” approach in the eyes of liberals, perhaps making them less likely to torpedo similar candidates invading GOP ‘safe’ territory. Note though that Lamb and Sccone will be back, as the districts they’ll be running in in the fall will be different! Lamb will be getting a better district, it seems. So if he is cheated out of this victory it will likely delay him by just 7 months or so.

2. Occam, sorry, I don’t see the Two Americas that you do. Sure there ARE two. But with some mapping differences. The oligarchs may live in blue areas but they are the confederate lords. They are red.

Likewise "Americans can't be trusted to be a superpower." Um... compared to what? Compared to the Star Trek Federation? Yep! Compared to absolutely any and every other empire or strong nation that ever existed? You're nuts, sir.

3. Guys. Swallow your bile re the new CIA head! Think tactically. You will do the world, decency and the country zero good by raging at her. They HOPE the left will rage in ways that drive members of the ‘deep state’ back into Republican arms! The PARADE is a trap, so that a few dozen antifa screachers can be filmed spitting on vets and soldiers. We need to get smarter now. Right now. And choose our battles. Spread the word. Make sure she’s chastened, then leave her (and the vets) BE.

Seriously, if the intel services truly are filled with dark conspirators against freedom, we're screwed and will find out and the only remaining hope will be technocracy. I hope not, expect not and see no signs of this. It appears (possibly) they are on our side and I will bet on that for a while.

4. ent-liar, show us the Americans (Union-blues) who like GW Bush! He wasn’t as universally insane/stupid/suborned as the current crop of utter-loons-traitors. Blatantly conniving for the plantation lords and Saudis, he at least wasn’t a lackey for that other empire. He did not try to find every single way to harm America. But that’s it. He was still an utter calamity and proof the GOP has gone completely insane.

BTW… one of my grand challenges: name one eminent Republican between Reagan and Ryan - other than Newt - who was even mentioned at the 2016 GOP convention? MENTIONED! So ashamed are they, of their 100% awful record. How can it be that no pundit or dem has cited this huge, glaringly pathetic fact?
RobH I loved the ent-wives bit!

5. Occam it won’t take much of a ‘war” to satisfy DT’s needs for: a distraction, a “triumph” to brag about, a spike in oil prices for the two masters, and an end game that gives a huge win to one of them. A couple of hundred tomahawks will do it. He can order that on the slightest pretext.. A Tonkin Gulf sham.

6. TCB har! Bright young captains will do nicely!

Alfred Differ said...

With a nod to TCB, I think it is more accurate to say RWA's love torture when they are told to love it.

I can cope with the new nominees. Mueller is still at work doing what he does. I'll be patient for this.

matthew said...

I heard on NPR that the Navy is reporting that the Iranians stopped their high speed charge behavior on shipping in the Persian Gulf, where an Iranian Navy vessel would try provocative behavior at either US Navy or US commercial shipping. Supposedly the behavior, which goes back decades, suddenly stopped last September.

OK, maybe the mullahs *don't* want those 200 Tomahawk missiles coming their way after all....

David Brin said...

Matthew... or else the orchestra conductor isn't ready for the crescendo.

Alfred... Pompeo is a BoR screeching end-of-the-world seeking Dominionist.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Mueller is still at work doing what he does. I'll be patient for this.

If/when Trump gets around to firing Sessions and replacing him with a toady who fires Mueller, I think we've agreed that crosses the line to Illegitimacy.

If instead, the toady simply interferes with or quashes the investigation from within the Justice Department? Same line, or does Trump get off on a technicality?

I'm not sure how much longer these questions will be hypothetical.

TCB said...

By the way, Newt Gingrich is a garbage human who only looks sorta good compared to Trump. He has a history. Helped Rupert Murdoch expedite his citizenship application, I've heard, thus helping ruin America...

And now it seems Newt is helping Trump purge the State Department of non-Trumpists.

>"In the letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and State Department Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, cite an email forwarded by Gingrich to Trump appointees in the State Department (the Democrats released a summary of the leaked documents, rather than the original emails). In an undated email, David Wurmser, who advised former Vice President Dick Cheney and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, wrote, “Newt: I think a cleaning is in order here. I hear [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson has actually been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind.”"

Incidentally, John Bolton has been mentioned as a replacement for H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and not in a good way. Colin Kahl, who worked for Obama and Biden, tweets: If Bolton replaces McMaster (and I’ve heard Kelly likes Bolton), we are all going to die.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | Regarding Pompeo... as if we have a choice right now? I get your concerns, but I'd rather one of them (chosen by Pence?) than a complete ignoramus at State.

It's a choice between evils until November.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | If your side takes the House in November, they can make the 'illegitimate' argument legitimately. That's the best option right now.

As Mueller ratchets up the pressure, I'm pretty sure Two Scoops will fire Sessions. However, it looks to me like DoJ is already planning for this. I'm very curious to see what the institution does in retaliation. I'm willing to wait to see what that is.

Tony Fisk said...

Looking at John Bolton, I finally realise why the movie "Wonder Woman" depicted Ares sporting a walrus moustache...

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

@Larry | If your side takes the House in November, they can make the 'illegitimate' argument legitimately.

They can't convict in the Senate, though. Not as long as the Republican Party stays complicit. I suppose that will make the entire party illegitimate.

However, it looks to me like DoJ is already planning for this. I'm very curious to see what the institution does in retaliation.

There, I'll agree. But doesn't that require a different type of illegitimacy? For a department that reports to the president to defy the president, I mean.

I'm willing to wait to see what that is.

I'm not "willing", but since I can't affect the outcome, I guess that doesn't matter. I just hope we're not at war with Iran long before then. Unless the war and its effects magically revert back when Mr Mxyzptlk is forced back the the Fifth Dimension.

The rumors of Trump firing Sessions to get at Mueller, John Effing Bolton as NSA, and Russian nerve agents have me regressing back to cartoon solutions again. Like pretending to wake up and going, "So, it was all a dream!"

TCB said...

Alfred Differ said: "As Mueller ratchets up the pressure, I'm pretty sure Two Scoops will fire Sessions. However, it looks to me like DoJ is already planning for this. I'm very curious to see what the institution does in retaliation. I'm willing to wait to see what that is."

Whatever Mueller and his subordinates have as a 'deadman switch' for this scenario, they have had months and months to prepare it, top minds to plan it, and ever more evidentiary ammunition to justify and propel it.

If I had to guess, based on my near-total lack of information, I'd guess there are sealed indictments with crates of evidence for the simultaneous and nearly immediate arrest of MANY people, and the marching orders already worked out, like the attack plan envelopes in the B-52 in Dr. Strangelove. So Agents Smith and Jones already are assigned to pick up Jared Kushner, Agents Turner and Hooch are to arrest Don Jr., and so on.

Does anybody remember those huge Italian mafia trials? They tried 475 mobsters at once!

LarryHart said...


I also hope that Mueller has been working closely with the New York and Virginia state AGs to be ready to go with state charges in case of pardons.

David Brin said...

Try arresting that many powerful men? Watch the Costa Gravas film "Z." Seriously.

And now... Every "adult-in-the-room" is either out or said to be on his way out. And now General McMaster. I am offering wagers on a Tonkin Gulf Incitement "incident" followed by war. One can see the arc, the timing, driven by DT's rising sense of frustration and panic, sure, But primarily by the November mid-terms and by the needs of an international oligarchy.

Our only hope may be you, yes you, helping to spread the word, so Americans are ready, recognize it, and react like citizens.

Alfred Differ said...

LarryHart | I suppose that will make the entire party illegitimate.

Ding! Ding!
We HAVE a winner. 8)

For a department that reports to the president to defy the president, I mean.

Yah? Are their Oaths to the President? What happens if your social institutions prove to be stronger than you imagine? What if they actually stick to their Oaths? What if some of them do? What then?

We live in interesting times. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@TCB | The deadman switch I suspect is there is to make it all very public. Every scrap of evidence would have the potential to turn into multiple charges in different states depending on where the deeds happened. The stuff would act like sparks from a chain dragged down the road during wild fire season.

Before that happens, though, I suspect they have a plan to put Two Scoops in a whack-a-mole situation. Do that for long enough and elections come around again on the calendar.

TCB said...

"like sparks from a chain dragged down the road during wild fire season."

Holy cow, that's a good visual metaphor.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | For your impression of McCloskey to be that far off, I’ll offer an apology. She self-identifies as a Progressive Episcopalian if I remember correctly. Considering her background, they’d have to be pretty tolerant to accept her. I say that so you don’t get the impression she is one of the folks who argue that wealth is a demonstration of God’s approval. Far from it for her. She won’t go so far as to say that some of the uncaring bastards out there are bad people (That’s for God to decide about them, right? I’m pretty sure she believes that.), but she will point out that they are mistaken and then point out exactly where. It’s in the first of the three books where she lays out the ethical system actually in use among the bourgeoisie where she demonstrates that people who take competition too far are over-emphasizing courage at the expense of other virtues. For example, what becomes of Justice or Love if the competition is all that matters to you? She has a big section on Courage and how people get it wrong, but it also includes a lot of material showing ‘most people’ are getting it right, but in danger of being lured away.

She also points out that replicating the way it happened doesn’t ensure a rosy future for us. The argument is that the way it happened is what created our relatively rosy present and it is the best option we have at present for building a rosier future. Imitating the sharks on Wall Street isn’t the way to do it, though. Imitating Mother Theresa isn’t the way to do it either. She argues for a bourgeois approach, describes it in detail, and points out that it is the one most of us are using.

She also points out a few things I had to learn to accept. Using evidence, she points out that some of the principles Libertarians think are non-negotiable for protecting Liberty aren’t all that important to the well-being of humanity. Some of us argue that taxation is theft. She points out that the theft is pretty small. While it might be nice if it wasn’t happening, we would be in error if we argue that it matters so much that we can attribute a number of social evils to it. With evidence, she gores some of our sacred cattle. To me, that means I should learn to tolerate it enough to negotiate on it to achieve other, more important objectives. For example, educating everyone (paying to help them build their own human capital) matters a great deal. It did NOT matter much until the latter half of the 20th century, but it matters now. The violation of our principles regarding taxation isn’t as important as getting people educated. We should be willing to tolerate the theft in order to reduce the education gradient. If fact, if we take her ethics chapters seriously, we should be volunteering the money in big buckets, or better yet, getting into the business of making it happen. More than once she pointed out that innovation was NOT happening much in the education field and pointedly asked ‘WHY NOT?’ If we did any of that, taxation to pay for education would become moot, but that is idealistic at the moment.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | (continued)

Heh. I actually live in Port Hueneme this year and spent a few years before that in Oxnard. The 10%’ers are in parts of Ventura, Camarillo, and Thousand Oaks near that Bastion of Blondness (CLU). The 1%’ers are in Newbury Park and Westlake. My neighbors aren’t so blond if you get my meaning. 8)

If you belong in the top 10%, you have plenty of reason to hope and be courageous. If you don't, you're screwed.

No. Look at the bottom of pg 293 in Sapolsky’s book to see my point. If you feel you are screwed, you probably are. If you don’t feel that way, you might not be. I have a partially personal story to back this up, but the point of it is that we address the issue of how people feel by addressing the feeling and not by what got them there. Hand a wad of cash to someone who feels poor and they might still feel that way.

Let me draw on my maternal grandmother again. Born 1918 in London, maximum height 4’10”, cursed in fluent Italian. She was from about the lowest of the classes you could find there. Poor? Yes. Malnurished? Yes. Screwed? As often as she could get paid for it, no doubt. Criminal? You bet. She had no way to move up if the other classes could have done anything about it… and they did. (Later in life she had memories with which she couldn’t quite live. She cracked and spent the last couple of years very child-like.) Her life-long solution to poverty, though, wasn’t to feel poor. She stole from others. She prostituted herself. When she got lucky and found a guy who was willing to marry her after getting her pregnant, she stole him too and married up much to the annoyance of his family. My mother was that child (max height 5’0” with what that implies) and she imitated her mother when it came to marriage and tried her best to avoid the other lessons… with partial success. My grandmother and mother did not ‘feel’ poor. They felt stepped on and damn well intended to strike back. Anger issues? Yes. Both of them.

My maternal grandmother and mother faced a steep gradient and simply refused to stay down. Each proved willing to fight the norms and take what they felt they were due. Screw the law if need be since it was obvious that was a tool of the elites.

I could tell a similar story on my father’s side of the family too, but it would involve less criminal behavior. I’ll avoid doing so since some of those relatives are still alive and kicking. The nutshell version, though, is they also refused to stay down. It’s no surprise that they were first generation immigrants to the US, right? My mother was the first in her family to come here too.

The gradient can be climbed at least partially within one generation. Within three it is possible to go from the bottom to the 10% mark at least. (My brother has done a little better than I have on that.) Along the way, each of us has innovated in some way to make that climb. My brother broke a cultural rule and now his kids serve this nation. I added to the knowledge of humanity. It CAN be done and DOES get done. I’ve seen it too many times to be convinced otherwise.

So… shall we worry about the people who feel they are screwed? Yes. That’s why I rain sunshine on your occasional gloom. 8)

occam's comic said...

I am just judging America by the values I was taught she stood for.

It says a lot when a torture using, evidence destroying person is nominated to head the CIA and you think it is a trap to forcefully oppose them. Because you are probably right, Americans won't care, a significant majority (>60%) are fine with torture.

And in the late summer Americans will love the war Trump starts with Iran (at least at first). If the blowback comes in the form of cyber attacks can we be sure that Iran was responsible? (don't forget that the anthrax attacks came from within the US military industrial complex aka "the deep state")

It is my understanding that the Iranians switched from using the fast boats to using drones.

Paul SB said...

Good morning, Alfred,

I still think that for the most part we agree, but there are a couple things you still seem to be missing, IMHO.

Okay. McCloskey is Episcopalian. I did some time in an Episcopalian church, the building was a beautiful old Gothic, though i don't remember any flying buttresses, and an anatomy-kicking pipe organ. The congregation wasn't so beautiful, but that was the nature of the town I lived in. I'm sure if you stuck them all into an fMRI you would come up with a pretty high average for amygdala activity, three or more deviations, and they were better than some other places I had been. But outside Nuremberg, CO I have know Episcopalians who were decent human beings.

"She has a big section on Courage and how people get it wrong, but it also includes a lot of material showing ‘most people’ are getting it right, but in danger of being lured away."
- That's been one of my major points for a very long time. As long as we keep up the "glorious American capitalism is what brought down those evil, inhuman commies" attitude, our culture lures huge numbers of people into emulating those very sharks - and finding it completely justifiable to elect those sharks ("I'm smart! I know how to evade taxes 'cuz I'm SMART! Where smart = crooked).

I'm very much aware of the Nancy Adler research. Without using her name, Sapolsky brought up the same idea in that Nat Geo video you watched a couple years ago, if you remember. What you are missing here is Veblen's work - conspicuous consumption. The whole point is for the rich and powerful to denigrate everyone who is not - that's why I keep bringing up the Enron line about being the "smartest people in the room." Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not something people are born with, it's something they grow when they are taught as children to believe they are much more awesome than everyone else around them. Money isn't always the qualifier - I have known quite a few megalomaniacs who think that being born a certain ethnicity, or being very religious, qualifies them as much better human beings than most everyone else around them. SES, however, has become king under American capitalism vs them damn, baby-eating commies.

"She also points out that replicating the way it happened doesn’t ensure a rosy future for us. The argument is that the way it happened is what created our relatively rosy present and it is the best option we have at present for building a rosier future."
- Until the hyper-competitiveness that drives our economic/social class system flatlines the ecosystem and we end up being just as much a thing of history as the Romans and the Maya.

Jon S. said...

"She [McCloskey]self-identifies as a Progressive Episcopalian if I remember correctly. Considering her background, they’d have to be pretty tolerant to accept her."

"Progressive" isn't part of any formal church name of which I'm aware. As for "accepting her", Episcopalians don't, so far as I'm aware, have any central authority to whom one can appeal as to who is and is not "one of us" - certainly nothing akin to papal authority, for instance. I could, if I wished, self-identify as Episcopalian, and their would be none to say me nay. Religious self-identification, particularly in most Protestant denominations, isn't particularly meaningful.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

LarryHart | I suppose that will make the entire party illegitimate.

Ding! Ding!
We HAVE a winner. 8)

Ok, but even getting past the 30% of voters who won't agree--even if refusal to impeach an illegitimate president leads to abandonment of the Republican Party by voters--it will then be another two years before they can be removed.

I get that patience is a virtue and all that, but a serious amount of permanent damage can be inflicted between now and 2021.

For a department that reports to the president to defy the president, I mean.

Yah? Are their Oaths to the President? What happens if your social institutions prove to be stronger than you imagine? What if they actually stick to their Oaths? What if some of them do? What then?

Well, Jeff Sessions stuck to his oath, and so what happens? Trump seems ready to replace him with someone who will (in the most generous interpretation) see his oath in a different light.

I understand your willingness to let the system play out, and my head knows that in many ways you are right, but I see a trap when the arbiters of legitimacy are the ones who get to adjust the rules in an investigation of their own selves. You seem to believe that they can't get away with it. I hope you're right.

We live in interesting times. 8)

Heh. I was actually going to use that line in one of my earlier responses to you, but decided it was too cliche.

Anonymous said...

Here in Veracruz, Mexico, politicians are the ones who show the most corruption with pride and pride. (and the genocidal attitude, because there are more clandestine graves here than in all of Mexico) But in other states of Mexico, they are not left behind in the techniques of wallowing in the mud of corruption. The former governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte, who has evidence of looting and tax fraud; bank crime; operations with resources of illicit origin; etc etc; etc, he was acquitted. That is to say. In Mexico, politicians are untouchable. Haaaaaaa; But if a poor man takes a piece of bread to feed his children, the poor man will not be released from prison in ten years.

In recent months, political parties have focused on creating new laws that give absolute power to the state to crush the rights of citizens. Corrupt politicians have created laws that violate human rights in Mexico, by allowing impunity to be attacked against any citizen. And the situation gets worse for the people day after day.
See what politicians do in Mexico, so they can predict what Donald Trump will do in the United States. Well, as the saying goes: "when you see the beards of your neighbor cut, put yours to soak".
Humm I think the translation of the saying is not correct, but the meaning is: If a misfortune strikes someone in circumstances similar to ours, then we must prepare for the same misfortune.
And the politician we are talking about is from the PRI. Those of the PAN are infinitely more sophisticated when it comes to stealing. The PAN does steal on a large scale, and practically without leaving traces of the crime, but they are not as smart as they think.


The same text, in Spanish:

Aquí en Veracruz, México, los políticos son los que ostentan con más descaro y orgullo la corrupción. (y la actitud genocida; pues hay más fosas clandestinas aquí que en todo México) Pero en otros estados de México, no se quedan atrás en las técnicas de revolcarse en el lodo de la corrupción. El ex gobernador de chihuahua, César Duarte, de quien se tienen pruebas de saqueo y defraudación fiscal; delito bancario; operaciones con recursos de procedencia ilícita; etc, etc; etc, fue absuelto. Es decir. En México, los políticos son intocables. Haaaaaaa; pero si un hombre pobre toma una pieza de pan para alimentar a sus hijos, el pobre hombre no saldrá de prisión en diez años.
En los últimos meses, los partidos políticos se han enfocado en crear nuevas leyes que dan un poder absoluto al estado para aplastar los derechos de los ciudadanos. Los políticos corruptos, han creado leyes que violan los derechos humanos en méxico, al permitir la agresión impune en contra de cualquier ciudadano. Y la situación empeora para el pueblo día con día.
Vean lo que hacen los políticos en México, para que puedan predecir lo que Donald Trump hará en los Estados Unidos. Pues, como dice el dicho: “cuando veas las barbas de tu vecino cortar, pon las tuyas a remojar".
Humm. Creo que la traducción del dicho, no es correcta, pero el significado es: Si un infortunio golpea a alguien en circunstancias similares a la nuestra, entonces debemos prepararnos para la misma desgracia.
Y el político del que hablamos es del PRI. Los del PAN son infinitamente más sofisticados a la hora de robar. El PAN sí roba a gran escala, y prácticamente sin dejar huellas del delito, pero ellos no son tan listos como creen.

Acacia H. said...

Well, Dr. Brin, it appears some Republicans are listening to you. The younger generation of Republicans are advocating enacting a Carbon Tax. Further, this Carbon Tax would benefit poor people more than the rich as it is revenue-neutral and would be split evenly among people. Naturally the Republican Leadership has remained completely silent and ignores this offer by their younger brethren to do something about the environment... but it does show that some Republicans are afraid of being called "anti-science" and the like.

Enjoy! :)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Alfred, what an incredible family story!

Occam, I asked “compared to what” for very good reasons. Only if you fully absorb how far we’ve come can we appreciate what might be lost… and how far we have yet to go. Concentrating only on the negative is just as lobotomizing as jingo-chauvinist preening.

Robert, wow re the next generation. One can hope.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

wow re the next generation. One can hope.

I see my daughter and her friends--sophomores in high school--every day and know that the next generation is in good hands. That is, if we don't blow it all up first.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | That's been one of my major points for a very long time.

Then you and she would likely agree on that point. Your differences might lie in her belief that most of us are not emulating the sharks. She warns against doing so and even goes so far as to say it is a very ‘male’ thing to do. She points to how our stories used to make it practically a sacred requirement for guys to do this. She also points out that many of us fail to do so and actually reject ethical guide. Any of us who ‘sweet talk for a living’ as she phrases it are breaking away from that guide, thus avoiding shark emulations.

I just re-read the pages that follow the one I pointed to where he covers the increased sense of entitlement airline passengers feel when they have to pass through first class to get to coach seats or when first class customers have to see us doing it. Obviously we signal our social status and our objections. I even caught myself doing it a bit the other day when I had my new computer delivered to my work address. (I didn’t want to risk a drop-off delivery at my home address.) I had it out of its box and was showing it to others when I realized I was showing off that I could buy a more expensive model. Oops. I don’t think stopping this behavior is a feasible objective, though. It is part of what makes us human. What we need is for our social institutions to provide coping mechanisms or ways to channel the behavior into relatively harmless paths.

Until the hyper-competitiveness that drives our economic/social class system flatlines the ecosystem and we end up being just as much a thing of history as the Romans and the Maya.

Do you REALLY think this is happening, though? Are we heading for a flatline? Are we on a path that could lead close instead? I’m all for warning against the catastrophe, but going back to my original comment, we are one of the civilizations that adapts. A huge part of how we do that involves our markets. Sure. The dangers you point out also come from those markets. Nothing new here. We deal with these balances all the time. My immune system has done wonderful things at keeping me alive most of my life, but in a moment of excess it damn near killed me. What saved me was another system running alongside that happens to use those markets. Science & Commerce mostly.

We CAN go down a path you point out, but I argue that avoiding it probably doesn’t look like your maturity model that you described a while back. If it does, we are in serious doo-doo as usual, but I don’t think it does this time. The West is unusual. What we actually do will probably look more like an ensemble approach where all paths are taken and the winners get to live well.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Re - the end of America

That was one of the reasons I chose not to stay in the USA, the American worker has been screwed rigid over the last 40 years
He/she has shared almost nothing of the improvements wrought mostly by him/her self - YES life has got better - but 95% of that has gone to the 0.1% and the 5% that he/she has got has only been enough to whet an appetite for more

I believe that at some point he/she will actually realise what has been done and then the blazing brands and guiloteens will come out
They will probably blame the wrong people!!
But that will be irrelevant compared to the violence

I did not want my family involved in that

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | Well... I've been here at it certainly doesn't look like the end to me. It looks like the end of what we used to be and the start of what we will become, but each generation can say that.

Maybe if I had lived where you were I might fell different, but I've been in California now for 35 of those years. Things have changed, but I think we are better off now. All of us. Yes. Even the people at the bottom of the SES gradient. It doesn't show up as income, though.

The bulk of the improvement I've seen isn't with the 0.1%. It wouldn't fit in their homes, businesses, and so on. It's the stuff Piketty doesn't track.

I'm not going to convince you, though. I know that. We shall have to wait another 40 years to see how it turns out, hmm?

However, I do expect some city burning between now and then. My guess a few years ago was for next mid-decade. With the way things are going right now, I'm moving my guess closer to the present. Maybe 2020 or so. It all depends on how the Millenials take power. Which they will. Some day.

We will manage.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

It all depends on how the Millenials take power. Which they will. Some day.

They'll probably have to insist somehow on removing the right-wing judges the federal courts are currently being stacked with.

I know those are lifetime appointments, but at some point, we're going to have to officially recognize that the purpose of lifetime appointments is to keep the judges free of political interference. That one generation gets to saddle the next few with their own ideologues is a bug, not a feature. And if we don't fix the bug, then the only solution would be the obvious one that Dr Brin prefers we don't discuss here. Maybe there's a compromise short of guillotines?

TCB said...

Duncan Cairncross said "I believe that at some point he/she will actually realise what has been done and then the blazing brands and guiloteens will come out"...

If I were 45 years younger I would start a band and call it the Guilloteens.

I am half-following the current debate on Deirdre McCloskey, as I have read only a bit of the introduction to The Bourgeois Virtues. It's tough going for me, and not for the reasons you might expect! It's not too dry nor too abstruse nor am I befuddled by the vocabulary. No, it is this: McCloskey has a dreadful habit of saying things I find perfectly reasonable, and in the next paragraph saying something I find perfectly outrageous and insupportable, each statement offered as fact when much of it is clearly opinion. Unions have done nothing to help the workers? Haitians and Cubans alike would benefit from adopting more bourgeois virtues? Good fucking god. Should she not fly down there and tell them to their faces? This is the information they have waited all their lives to hear.

Maybe I had better skip to the first chapter and see whether the road smooths out any.

Don't get me wrong, I like having my previous mental models overturned.

THIS is how you do it. THIS changed an idea in my head, or rather put a new one in there.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | The compromise short of violence is impeachment. Judges can be taken down that way too.

Alfred Differ said...

@TCB | Heh. Her argument about the Unions takes some development. You have to look at the numbers to see it. I'm not sure I agree, but only because there are intangibles that can't be summed into those numbers. Ultimately, though, she argues that the benefit people assign to Unions is misplaced. It came from elsewhere and the wrong people are getting credit for it. The ENTIRE second book talks about misplaced credit or blame.

As for Haitians and Cubans, there is truth to her statement, but it's hard to see until she lays out more clearly what the ethical system is and how they violate it. One doesn't have to be rich to deploy it. One doesn't have to be poor either.

The front of that book summarizes a lot because she knew it might be the only part people actually read. It doesn't hurt to skip the Apology, but I suggest coming back to it later. It is written in the classical style of an Apology where the author is not sorry about any of it. 8)

LarryHart said...

Bill Maher interviews Billy Bush:

Check in around timestamp 5:20. Billy had called Trump on his claim that The Apprentice was number 1 in the ratings when it hadn't been for four years.

Billy Bush: "And when the cameras are off...he [Trump] says, 'Billy, look. You just tell them. And they believe it.'"

Paul SB said...

"David Brin said...

Alfred, what an incredible family story!"
- Of course you realize that only a bare generation ago - and in many circles of the most powerful - such a story would be considered so shameful it would effectively end any chance of his being able to work for a living within the law. Never mind that most of those rich aristo families came by their wealth through piracy or land grants given out after the burning of villages, and the nouveau riche business barons made theirs by sinking millions of their fellow hominids into poverty. It is a testament to how our culture is changing, in spite of the guardians of none-of-your-business judgement, to accommodate and value your fellow hominids. I doubt the "my daddy has better genes/breeding/table manners/classic car collection than your daddy" mentality will go away until the mechanics of the human brain are changed, but there is plenty of room for the culture to become less divisive, judgmental, xenophobic, hateful and self-destructive.

One of the things I love about the better, more well-thought science fiction works is that the presence of alien races is treated not as something to hate and fear, but as something to learn from, adapt and grow comfortable with. The second Uplift trilogy starts on a very multi-racial world where racism is meaningless. They were all united by the fact that they shared an illegal colony that would be in major trouble if they were discovered. That's a huge step up from all those alien invasion stories where the aliens are cardboard bugbears and the humans glorious heroes resisting their onslaught. Contrast something like Heinlein's "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," where one set of aliens was planning to invade while another was working to thwart them. Our right-wing paranoids would proclaim the better kind to be pie-in-the-sky lovey-dovey kumbiyah (I have no idea how to spell that) BS, ignoring the aliens who do turn out to be enemies in such tales. The clinically paranoid have mentality that both stereotypes, giving all members of the same category the same status (Two legs good, pseudopodia bad!) and turning potential friends into enemies by treating anyone different as enemies.

There's a bizarre irony in how some people insist that individuals must merit success individually, yet they collectively condemn entire groups of people to subordinate status regardless of individuality. Humans! What can you do with them?

Paul SB said...


On the unions, I'll have to read the book and look at the details, because I can't say I know a whole lot about them. I can say that America's most prosperous times were when unions were strong, and the country started going downhill when the Republicans were able to convincingly paint unions as corrupt, driving workers away from their most reliable protection against their masters. My own personal experience with teacher's unions is that how they have been portrayed in the press and what actually goes on are rather different pictures. The media only want to talk about teacher's unions when there is a strike in the offing, and when they do they only report about wage increase demands or punitive evaluation systems. What actually went on in the union meetings I have attended is a rather different picture. I have seen unions vote to cut teacher salaries in exchange for smaller class sizes, but that will never be reported in the so-called "liberal" media. The media are much more interested in casting aspersions than reporting the whole story. Most of the things we discussed in union meetings related to issues of education and school safety, but administrators typically pretend to agree to those things while focusing on salary and benefits in negotiations, later reneging on any promises they made about more substantive issues than pay. Without teachers' unions our education would resemble what you see in old Charlie Dickens novels.

Paul SB said...


"... a band and call it the Guillotines."
- I like the way you think...

I also like what moves your mental models. I fact, I have that example of things that move your mental models on DVD.

Paul SB said...

Looks like autocorrect made a hash of your joke and I didn't catch it before hitting the publish button. Curses, foiled again!

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

For example, educating everyone (paying to help them build their own human capital) matters a great deal. It did NOT matter much until the latter half of the 20th century, but it matters now. The violation of our principles regarding taxation isn’t as important as getting people educated. We should be willing to tolerate the theft in order to reduce the education gradient. If fact, if we take her ethics chapters seriously, we should be volunteering the money in big buckets, or better yet, getting into the business of making it happen.

That philosophy has applications in many social areas, from fire departments to public health to retirement. We err when we treat all of these areas as something that individuals acquire or fail to acquire or refuse to acquire as solely personal choices.

BTW, I somehow failed to notice your long posts that mixed economic theory with personal history until Dr Brin referred back to them. You seriously should publish your family's story in some form, even without necessarily naming names. You'd all be at home as characters in the musical Ragtime.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, again,

"What we actually do will probably look more like an ensemble approach where all paths are taken and the winners get to live well."
- Most anthropologists will tell you that instead of rigidly prescribing to one paradigm, they follow the "smorgasbord approach" of trying whatever works in any given circumstance. The idea of diversity doesn't bother me, what bothers me is the final clause of that statement. The winners may get to live well, at the expense of everyone else. That's how things work in tooth-and-nail biological evolution, but as I have said before, your bar is too low for my tastes. I would much rather acknowledge that humans are human, not merely mindless predators. As the social animals par excellence, any social system which tries to treat humans as nothing more than predatory individuals will always fail the species.

"Do you REALLY think this is happening, though? Are we heading for a flatline? Are we on a path that could lead close instead? I’m all for warning against the catastrophe, but going back to my original comment, we are one of the civilizations that adapts."
- At least 30% of our civilization refuses to adapt. For some of them they are making out like bandits by gaming the current system, while most of them are simply mindless dupes of those who are robbing them blind.

My last archaeology job included among my duties monitoring what was referred to as "the big pit" on the site of Howard Hughes' old aircraft factory. A big real estate tycoon had bought the property and wanted to build homes, shopping and even a new school on the property. Fortunately there is a government in California that requires people to clean up toxic waste before selling homes and building schools on a plot of land. The developer sure as hell would not have spent millions doing that if there wasn't a law and people looking over their shoulders to make sure they were meeting the law's requirements. Otherwise it would have become yet another Love Canal.

The big pit was 80 feet deep and several hundred square when I was there. They were digging out sold that was neon green, yellow, pink and rainbow swirl. A chemist was always on site with a chemical sniffer to monitor air quality. "Look, there's another benzene ring! Great stuff we're sniffing!" was a refrain I heard from them often enough. The stinking soil was then dumped into trucks, and those trucks drove out to the desert and dumped the contaminated soil out on the ground where the wind could scatter it anywhere. But with real estate prices so unreal in the LA Basin, lots of other real estate developer are building more reasonably-priced homes and apartments goes where? Out in the desert where all that contaminated soil was being dumped! Don't underestimate the power of business to soil the nest, and the power of government to find token remedies that kick the can down the road a little rather than solving the actual problem. That's called crony capitalism, that is.

"We CAN go down a path you point out..."
- I'm not exactly sure I know what path you are attributing to me. Could you explain what you think I am saying?

Paul SB said...

"You'd all be at home as characters in the musical Ragtime."
- Well, except for a conspicuous lack of melanin in the cast ...

LarryHart said...



"Lack of melanin" in the Ragtime cast, or in Alfred's family. I'm not sure what you're snarking here.

There were many blacks in the musical. Not just incidentally, but necessary to the plot.

Paul SB said...

Exactly, but not so much in Alfred's story. But I wasn't being snarky, just making an observation that seemed kind of humorous.

Paul SB said...


McCloskey's comment about the hyper-competitiveness of our Executive Caste being extremely male is worth commenting on. I'm sure you remember what Sapolsky had to say about testosterone, right? This is one of those "everybody knows" things that is entirely wrong. Yes, if you castrate a bull it won't chase you around trying to gore you, but that doesn't work unless you do that when the bull is very young and hasn't learned to be aggressive yet. Experiments with humans have shown that what they expect is what they get. Inject a man with testosterone and if he thinks it will make him aggressive, he becomes aggressive. Inject a man with saline solution but tell him it's testosterone and the same thing happens.

Testosterone has clear physiological affects on the human body, like triggering muscle growth and all that ugly body hair, but in terms of behavior the story is much more nuanced. Give it to a police officer (real or placebo) and they become much more diligent in pursuing criminals, or people they perceive to be criminals, anyway, which isn't always the same thing. I had an anthro professor ages ago who, when asked the "Is aggression really natural" answered that you don't need rituals to reinforce behaviors that are natural, you need rituals to reduce behaviors that are natural. What rituals reinforce aggression? Violent sports like football, for one. Also hazing, bullying (which has until recently been largely accepted as both "natural" and healthy male behavior - never mind the number of girls and women who bully, we just close our eyes to things that don't fit our stereotypes), and all the honor given to those who are aggressive in their careers, regardless of whether they are anything like ethical.

Part of the problem is that people misunderstand how instincts work. They think instincts are simple programs, instructions that well up inside people and force them to behave badly. Nice rationalization for bad behavior, but it simply isn't true. As Sapolsky pointed out, testosterone only makes you aggressive if you believe it will. Instincts are not programs, they are options that people try, usually at very young ages, and they are either reinforced by society or extinguished by society. Violent subordinates tend to end up in jail or an early grave - exactly the phenomenon that has spurred the Black Lives Matter movement. Violent leaders, on the other hand, not only get away with aggressive behavior, they benefit from it, so it gets reinforced with myelin and dopamine in their brains. As usual, reality is much more complicated than the bumper stickers would have you believe.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Exactly, but not so much in Alfred's story. But I wasn't being snarky, just making an observation that seemed kind of humorous.

Ah. Ok, but the cast of Ragtime certainly has a lot of white people too, even among the poor characters. Also necessary to the plot.

And BTW, if Alfred's ancestors were of Irish descent in London, they were probably called "n----r" a time or two.

David Brin said...


I'll be traveling a lot. Checking in now and then. Carry on.


Paul SB said...

Yep, the N word wasn't always used for African people specifically. I remember looking up the word in the dictionary when I was larval and the dictionary defined it as 1. an ignorant person, 2. a pejorative for a person of African descent. Since all humans are of African descent, it shouldn't matter, but I doubt the lexicographers were thinking that back in the '70s. When Larval Paul 1.0 tried using the word according to definition one, it did not go over very well. : {

Anonymous said...

Alfred Differ:
Certainly the story of your family is like a novel. I think you should write that story in a novel format, at least so that the next generations of your family remember that the success they achieved was thanks to the sacrifices and almost slavery of their ancestors.
Although I think you said you're not interested in writing. However, your writing style reminds me a bit of Robert A. Heinlein's chronicle style in his novel "Time Enough for Lover" and "Methuselah's Children." So, if you focus on describing what happens and expressing the emotions of the characters with actions, then I think you can get successful novels.
Regarding the issue of carbohydrates, have you tried the stevia leaves? That plant, which I know does not have any problem. I have noticed that the plant is sold in "Home Depot". And the plant produces seeds, so you can grow a large amount of plants on a small plot of land. The leaves of that plant are very sweet. But you should harvest the leaves frequently, and put them to dry. The mills and you use them mixing them with your cereals; smoothies, etc. That plant is much sweeter than ordinary sugar.