Saturday, October 27, 2018

The failing political strategies

The New York Times offers a detailed update of the Russian Election Interference Thing. And yes, our "deep state" public servants who won us the Cold War are trying to stymie many of the very same Kremlin masterminds from flipping their defeat back into victory over the West. 

Step one, getting the American right to dismiss our defenders as a "deep state." Study, learn. Be angry that our enemies have taken Washington, which no other hostile power ever accomplished before.

== Staring at a tree -- ignoring a burning forest ==

Alert to you economics/trade nerds!  One of my RASR (Residually Adult-Sane Republican) friends – investment guru John Mauldin – recently cited this short explanation of the Trade War threat by currency expert Taggart Murphy:

“‘Trump is doing everything he can to bring on the end of the days when the US can borrow whatever it wants in whatever amounts it wants. To be sure, there is no recipe book. The dollar is now so entrenched as the world’s money that if your assignment were to bring the curtain down on that—and thus the ability of the US to borrow whatever it wants whenever it wants—it’s not at all clear what you would do.

“‘But you’d start by doing everything that Trump is doing—pick fights with all your allies, blow the government deficit wide open at the peak of an economic recovery, abandon any notion of fiscal responsibility, threaten sanctions on anyone and everyone who seeks to honor the deal Obama struck with Iran (thereby almost begging everyone to figure out some way to bypass the US banking system in order to do business), [Which they are openly doing, comments JFM] throw spanners into the works of global trade without any clear indication of what it is precisely you want for a country that structurally consumes more than it produces and thus by the laws of accounting MUST run trade and current account deficits.”

Implicitly, Murphy and John admit the contrast – that Bill Clinton and California’s Jerry Brown and most democratic governors have done the right thing, using good times to pay down debt. And Barack Obama, even inheriting the Second Depression, decelerated the rate of change of deficits, applying brakes to the 2nd derivative of debt. Our alliances and sciences and almost every other health metric did better across the span of DP administrations. In contrast, every single strength the made the late 20th century prosperous and mighty and that won the Cold War is being systematically dismantled.

Alas, neither John nor any other RASR seems ever to draw the blatantly obvious conclusion, that either:

(1) the entire leadership clade of the GOP consists of hypocritical morons who should not be trusted with a burnt match, or worse, or else

(2) that the bottomless list of outrageous harms to the U.S. can only be deliberate.

Look at Vladimir Putin’s grin, and tell me that you understand the meaning of the term “Occam’s Razor.”

== The one tree ==

My RASRs, in their frantic state of denial, choose to desperately cling to one tree in the forest. In John's case it is debt. And yes, it is dangerous how we are plunging toward a debt cliff. Note that, as usual, the second derivative of deficit spending  -- the rate of rate of change -- has veered from negative to positive under a Republican administration, as is absolutely uniformly and perfectly-always true. Always. And those "conservatives" who ignore this brutally consistent fact are no conservatives, but something else.

Alas, John chooses to blame our debt splurge on the Federal Reserve, for maintaining low interest rates, which is like blaming a liquor store owner's low prices for drunk driving deaths. Sure, it's peripherally pertinent, but not the real cause. (Meanwhile Trump howls at the Fed for raising rates; go figure?)

Look around to where governments are operating in the black, in blue states like Jerry Brown's California, where the nation's only fiscally-prudent politicians have been paying down debt during good times, as both Adam Smith and J.M. Keynes recommended. Or Bill Clinton's 1990's surpluses. But it goes farther. In 1993, President Clinton created the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform as part of the administration's effort to promote economic growth and control the budget deficit. The purpose of the commission, chaired by Senator J. Robert Kerrey (D-NE) and Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO), was to seek agreement across parties on long-term entitlement reform and structural changes to the tax system.

The resulting bill almost passed. It would have gradually raised retirement age and saved trillions, in exchange for cranking up Medicare for children and the poor and meaningful contributions by the rich. But the opportunity was trashed by Newt Gingrich and then by Dennis "friend-to-boys" Hastert, who worked with Fox to end all traces of adulthood in the GOP. (Oh, look up Dennis Hastert and be proud.)

Danforth-style Republicans are now entirely extinct. And the latest "supply side" tax cut again - as always - widened wealth disparities without stimulating R&D or "supply"... only asset bubbles.

== Trump's failing negotiating style ==

I've posted on Medium an expanded version of my look at the negotiation strategy always used by Donald Trump, that worked in the dark-coercive world of real estate, but that has never worked and cannot work in the worlds of diplomacy, politics and adult interaction. Except that the method has worked a couple of times... against him. The "deal-master" is clueless, disarmed and appears to be terrified.

Summarizing: what’s fundamental to this calamitous presidency is not the vulgarity or toddler tantrums or hatred of all fact-professions. It is his inability to grasp that "negotiation" is different at the adult or legislative or international levels. Those are three different things. But none of them work like real estate speculation or a TV reality show. Time and again, DT shows the same, predictable pattern: 

Break something the other side cares about. Threaten them with pain, then let them fall all over themselves to shift 90% toward what you want. It worked for Trump against Merv Griffin and dozens of development 'partners' and shivved contractors, and when he got his (very clever!) 1980s tax deals with New York City. It worked on The Apprentice.

And it hasn't worked even one time since he entered the White House. Not once. Sabotaging DACA and 2 million innocent young Americans didn't get him his wall. Trying to sabotage the ACA (Obamacare) only made people realize they like it. So far, his tariff war has accomplished zilch. Every month he takes something away from the Palestinians, never realizing that harming poor people strengthens, not weakens, Hamas. The list goes on, revealing a stunningly un-sapient inability to learn. 

(Ironically, the method DID work once, when Kim Jong Un used it on Donald Trump. And DT's unsecure cell phone (remember outrage over Hillary's email server?) allows perfect oppo profiling of this president.)

Yes, there's an alternative explanation for these actions. Or two. (1) deliberately weakening us at behest of Kremlin masters, and (2) pure evil. Sure, both of those are in play. But I believe a major factor is his inability to distinguish between obstinately repetitive, feral cunning on the one hand, and adaptably pragmatic intelligence.

The former worked well for him in the world of real estate deals, mafia coercion, falsehood-supported debt, bullying and money laundering. The latter is what you need when negotiating under the public glare, where a politician seen buckling to Trumpian pressure tactics will be finished, or where breaking something or hurting innocents doesn't shift the bargaining table.

Trump's opponents need to parse the feral-cunning from the drooling stupidity. We see the former at his Fox/KGB-supported nuremberg rallies. And his enemies under-rate this cunning at their peril. 

In turn, they display a stupidity of their own -- inability to grasp the power of polemic, ceding that territory to the Putin/Murdoch/Trumpian/fundie cabal, never realizing that these tricks can be answered... the way FDR and Churchill finally rose up and used the power of words to save civilization.

== Mueller and more ==

The day after Paul Manafort's conviction, Trump pointed to the mistrial on some counts as evidence that he was being improperly targeted by Mueller. “A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt!” he tweeted.  But let’s count more truly. Across the 18 counts, there were 206 jury votes of guilty and ten jury votes to acquit. Read the article how a juror who professes to be a strong Trump supporter voted guilty 18 times.

A taste of the cyber-weapons that may be hurled against the U.S., if and when the Kremlin deems the time is right.

== Fresh Ideas ==

Folks have been thinking about how to reform various aspects of the archaic U.S. electoral process. Some notions are blatantly obvious and will happen the instant Democrats control Congress (only to be vetoed, alas.) Like ending gerrymandering, or requiring that all states use secure, easily audited voting apparatus with paper ballots or receipts, and that voter ID requirements be accompanied by generous compliance assistance, like automatic registration.  Some concepts – like those of Lawrence Lessig and his associate – would pry Big Money out of politics. (GOP Congress members spend far more time “fundraising” than on the floor or in committee, openly declaring that money buys access.)

Naturally, preferential-style elections make vastly more sense than the stupid plurality-wins system in most U.S. constituencies.

Some concepts are radical and would require a Constitutional Convention (e.g. we actually need TWO Dakotas?). Some are dumb notions that will never pass (e.g. all states agree to allocate their electors to the winner of the national popular vote - the “compact.” Yeah, that’ll happen.)

Given that even a massive Blue Wave will see its reforms blocked by Executive branch loons, Two Scoops followed by the vastly more dangerous Mike Pence, we need to look at things that are simple and might happen organically and almost instantly. Measures that small groups and individuals might take, that act with judo-like twist, that cannot easily be blocked by the forces of darkness.

Here’s one: In late November 2016 I wrote to some rich dudes suggesting they rent a luxury resort hotel somewhere and donate it for a unique and fascinating purpose — a weeklong actual, physical meeting of the newly-chosen Electoral College! 

Consider: there’s no rule that the Electors have to stay thousands of miles apart. Absolutely nothing prevents them from gathering and talking – like a “college” -- before submitting their votes to each state legislature. They could simply show up, privately (maybe with some Secret Service protection), at some secured resort.

No one else but cooks n’ such in attendance. Maybe even no phones. Should the press watch for white smoke pouring from a chimney?

Sure, the political parties may feel alarmed at the prospect. They’ll pressure their electors not to attend. Some states already have laws threatening punishment if an elector changes his/her vote from the pre-election commitment. But I’ll bet few chosen electors would stay away from their one chance in life to schmooze and, briefly, be among the most-important humans on the planet.

Officially at least. Because in fact, though members of the College might yell at each other and seek to persuade, there’s little chance anyone will reverse their partisan commitment, in any result-changing way. The one main effect would be that the elector-candidates nominated by each party, in each state, will be more closely vetted in advance, than before.

Still, what’s to complain about, if the EC decides to act like a “college”? 

No pressure or partisan posturing. Just a place for all the new electors to meet and talk.  Nine times out of ten, nothing would change; the electors would just hew to their pre-election commitments.

But on that tenth occasion, there’d be a final chance to fix something awful. I have never seen the idea anywhere else. And note, it can be done for a few million by a single donor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Forty Fabulous First Lines of Science Fiction & Fantasy

Over on Quora someone asked for favorite first lines from science fiction novels.  It would make a great diversion for lots of you - (briefly escape from politics!) - to chime in with favorites in comments, below.

If a man walks in dressed as a hick and acting as if he owned the place, he’s a spaceman.  – Robert Heinlein’s Double Star

Earth is dead! They murdered our Earth!  – Poul Anderson’s After Doomsday

It was a pleasure to burn. - Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

It was a bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell's 1984

All of this happened, more or less. - Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

The manhunt extended across more than one hundred light years and eight centuries. - Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky

I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. - Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.  - Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama

He woke, and remembered dying. Ken MacLeod's The Stone Canal

The space lift rose from the Pacific, climbing the cords of anthrax bacteria. - Joan Slonczewski's The Highest Frontier

Go, traveler. Go anywhere. The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest. - Philip Jose Farmer's Venus on the Half-Shell

Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. - Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This book is predominantly concerned with making money, and from its pages a reader may learn much about the character and the literary integrity of the authors. Of boggies, however, he will discover next to nothing... -- The Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings.

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god; he preferred to drop the Maha- and -atman, and called himself Sam. - Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light.

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door... - Fredric Brown's Knock

Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we? - N.K. Jemison's The Fifth Season

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck. - M.T. Anderson's Feed

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. - Neal Stephenson's Seveneves

He was one hundred and seventy days dying, and not yet dead. - Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination

Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man. - Joe Haldeman's The Forever War.

I first saw the light in the city of Boston in the year 1857. - Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward

"In five years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman. - John Varley's Steel Beach

"Afterwards, Thomas Blaine thought about the manner of his dying and wished it had been more interesting. -  Robert Sheckley's Immortality Incorporated.

The female of the species vanished on the afternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fifty-two seconds past four o'clock, Eastern Standard Time. - Philip Wylie's The Disappearance.

She was born a thing and as such would be condemned if she failed to pass the encephalograph test required of all newborn babies. - Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang

The student wouldn't stop doing her homework, and it was going to kill her. - Annalee Newitz's Autonomous.

I'm pretty much fucked. That's my considered opinion. Fucked. - Andy Weir's The Martian.

Rarely is it given man to know the day or the hour when fate intervenes in his destiny, but, because he had checked his watch just before he saw the girl with the hips, Haldane IV knew the day, the hour, and the minute. - John Boyd's The Last Starship from Earth. 

Of course there’s William Gibson’s Neuromancer opening: The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

And Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun. 

Other classic openings come from The Hobbit, The Handmaid's Tale, Clockwork Orange, Dhalgren, The Color of Magic, Beggars in Spain, The Dispossessed, The War of the Worlds, and of course, The Princess Bride. Oh, that one is so wonderful I dare not sully William Goldman's wit by typing it myself. I dare you to read it... and not keep reading, entranced.

== A few of my own! ==

But what the heck, let me offer up some of my own. (I can cut and paste them in, easier than sifting and retyping from my shelves of other books, so it’s laziness, less than self-promotion!)

Twenty-six months before her second birthday, Maia learned the true difference between winter and summer. Glory Season

It’s hard to stay cordial while fighting for your life, even when your life doesn’t amount to much. Even when you’re just a lump of clay– Kiln People

Long ago, Gordon once heard someone contend that there was nothing more dangerous than a desperate man. No defeat was so total that a determined person could not pull something from the ashes by negotiation . . . by risking all he had left. - The Postman

An angry deity glowered at Alex. Slanting sunshine cast shadows across the incised cheeks and outthrust tongue of Great Tu, Maori god of warEarth

Kato died first.  Heart of the Comet

Pain is the stitching holding him together... or else, like a chewed-up doll or a broken toy, he would have unraveled by now, lain his splintered joins amid the mucky reeds, and vanished into time.  Brightness Reef

“As for me... I am finished.” Those words resonated -- they clung, like the relentless blanket that Hari Seldon’s nurse kept straightening across his legs, though it was a warm day in the Imperial Gardens– Foundation's Triumph

The lecture was really boring.  - The Practice Effect

As a little kid, I used to think every family was annoyed by time travelers. After all, why should visitors from the future want to bother us, in particular? – “Gawkers”

I started out this life, if you call it life, as a simple message -- a walking, talking Dear-Jane letter -- dispatched by a cad who lacked enough guts to break up with his girlfriend in person– Kiln Time  (unfinished)

== Brin news ==

TIME Magazine on August 2018 listed Earth as one of “8 books that eerily predicted the future.” And in the same week, Barnes & Noble published a run-down of novels that won both Hugo and Nebula AwardsStartide Rising is rated in the upper half, so…

Speaking of Earth, here’s Predictions Registry fodder. Recall in that novel (1989) I predicted the world would be inundated by prosperous Chinese (Han) tourists by 2030? Well, it’s begun

Another for the registry? Fred R. writes: “In Earth, you had people who fought to preserve quiet areas, untrammeled by human activity.  Another prediction!”

And folks have been writing in about the “augment” super soldiers from the last portion of The Postman.  Mind you I was glad Costner left them out of the film – (though with a sly dig at me in the Sound of Music scene). And yet… The Defense Dept is developing techniques, including genetic engineering, brain implants, and shrinking robotics, for augmented soldiers. For example"a soldier wears a skullcap that stimulates his brain to make him learn skills faster, or reads his thoughts as a way to control a drone. Another is plugged into a Tron-like "active cyber defense system," in which she mentally teams up with computer systems "to successfully multitask during complex military missions." Augmented muscles and reactions?  Yes, those too.

Some folks have asked about the audio book for Heart of the Comet. It’s not in the regular Audible catalogue, but instead produced by Skyboat. It’s pretty good!
Now onward. Remember how rare science-fictional (impudent!) thinking has been, across 6000 years of feudalism and darkness. Our impudence will be repressed, if feudalism returns. So resist. And vote.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

What you can do. More "ammo" for the trenches.

Racing about SoCal, first to Peter Diamandis's XPrize Conference and then to give interviews in LA. But I'll try not to neglect you. And so --

== What can you do... even in the last few weeks? ==

Make a difference? Again, state legislatures! Small races but important! See this: "Data for Progress, a scrappy think tank that operates outside the Democratic Party suggests donating to eight state legislative campaigns around the country where the winner could tip the balance of power in the chamber."

Donate? Or see this WaPost graphic. Or find a quixotic state assembly race on your own! Again, that's where to find a candidate who - if she wins - will remember your name!

== Spreading disinformation ==

Social media bots and Russian trolls have been spreading disinformation about vaccines on Twitter to create social discord and distribute malware, U.S. researchers say. Troll accounts that had attempted to influence the U.S. election had also been tweeting about vaccines, posting both pro- and anti-vaccination messages to create "false equivalency." 

Why? By now you know that the main enemy is every fact-using profession. The one billion skilled human beings who stand in the way of an aggressive, worldwide oligarchic putsch. Because if the rising world middle class gets educated fast enough, imbued with Hollywood values, the chance to restore feudalism may be lost forever.

Of course Vladimir Putin hears an even more-pressing ticking clock. Russia teeters at the edge of demographic collapse. (I have long-odds wagers out there, with some 'agency people,' that he is already selling Siberia to the Chinese.) Part of this collapse is a horrific public health crisis. Another is reluctance of Russian women to bear children. So there's very little time to anchor in the real objective of these former KGB billionaires -- a world mafia state whose topmost "families" - Corleones - just happen to be those with nukes.

Watch these mob families coalesce and drop all pretenses, as they do mob-style hits on journalists. (And doing it blatantly is part of the plan.) 

Another example, Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder, went on Fox & Friends to appeal to Trump to Privatize the Afghanistan War. Give him a ten billion dollar contract and he’ll kill-em-all. Prince “is also brother to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Oh, and there is also the "report that he made a mysterious visit to a Seychelles hotel in which he is alleged to have helped establish a secret back channel of communication with Vladimir Putin.” Blackwater was renamed Xe Services — a private military support company that’s is arguably the world’s “most powerful mercenary army.” Unless you include Putin’s personal forces in Crimea and the Donbas.

There. Were those three paragraphs sufficient to make me a target, yet? Let me be your canary. When I'm taken out, you'll know they are going after pathetic, all-talk theoreticians... and it will be time to organize your militias. No, time to dig into your cyberpunk skills and show them the price of under-estimating "fact-loving nerds."

== Elder Ammo ==

Know anyone on Social Security? Well show them thisOn Tuesday, after the Treasury Department released figures showing the federal deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 rose 17 percent to reach $779 billion, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the "solution" must be drastic cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.

Yawn. Everyone knew this was Mitch's plan. No Supply Side tax cut for the rich ever stimulated growth or investment or R&D or reduced deficits, ever, even once. The GOP always sends debt skyrocketing and money velocity plummeting, a sure sign that Adam Smith's hated "rentier caste" - against whom the real Tea Party rebelled - is back in force. The aim of the recent tax gift to oligarchs was to use the tsunami of red ink as an excuse to slash Social Security.

In fact, back when sincere adult Republicans existed, in 1993, President Clinton created the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform as part of the administration's effort to promote economic growth and control the budget deficit. The commission, chaired by Senator J. Robert Kerrey (D-NE) and Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO), wrought bipartisan agreement on long-term entitlement reform and structural changes to the tax system.

The resulting bill almost passed. It would have gradually cranked up retirement age and saved trillions, in exchange for cranking up Medicare for children and the poor and meaningful contributions by the rich. But the opportunity was trashed by Newt Gingrich and then by Dennis "friend-to-boys" Hastert, who worked with Fox to end all traces of adulthood in the GOP. Danforth-style Republicans are now entirely extinct.

Link to this! Make it clear they are going after Social Security again, in order to keep the Supply Side gusher going into the open maws of aristocrats and vampires. Remind them that their parents faced a similarly dangerous plutocracy, and the Greatest Generation adored one man... Franklin Roosevelt.

== Lefty Ammo ==

Dig it. Only 95% of our current crisis arises from a mad, confederate right that's tooling for a world feudalist-mafia. Alas, in fighting to save the Enlightenment Experiment, we get little help from a pompous-preening-purist FAR-left

My most popular Facebook posting of late has been a takedown of insipid "splitters" who would make the Union's tent smaller, pouring hate on refugees from the Republican insanity... including those crewcut-wearing protector-caste officers and other "deep state" fact-users who are supplying lots of our best mid-term candidates. 

Any time you see purist splitting by lefty zealots, whether they are sincere fools or (more often) Kremlin provocateurs, stomp it! Even if you think some dems are too pallid, the Democratic Party will get you half of what you want, and that will do for starters. You will be better positioned to demand more, if first we get:

... an end to gerrymandering, voter suppression and other cheats
... transparency of money in politics
... a return of the Rebuttal Rule (vs lies especially on Fox)
... restoration of fair tax rates
... full funding of IRS auditors
... protection of the civil service
... doubling energy research
... restoration of energy/mileage standards
... decent judges
... fairness for DACA kids
... congressional committees investigating real things...

... plus at-minimum giving Medicare to all young people under 26
... and raising the national minimum wage
... and background checks. 

Those are consensus things that all democratic politicians are for.

Yeah, sure, they will then divide on many other things, like the importance of trying to balance a budget, as Jerry Brown has done spectacularly in California. But even you lefties out there, do you want to get at least those items first?

Show that list to your lefty-flake pals and ask them which of those measures they deem unimportant or 'no-real-difference.' If you would split the DP's big tent you would undermine all those items. (And witness California, where the divided dems still agreed on all of those and more.) "They're all corrupt and the same," is THE number one meme pouring out of the Kremlin basements.  Anyone who helps to spread it is a tool, at best.

Dig it. Once the insane treasonous GOP is dead, then the democrats will divide into two parties, one of them more interested in stimulating enterprise and balancing budgets. Sane conservatives, who like science and justice and facts and compassion, would find a home with those moderate liberals. 

But here's the deal -- you lefties can have the other half and make it yours! You can then oppose and pester that sane adult slightly-conservative party of grownups with further lefty stuff if you want! Re-learning the almost lost method called negotiation, on a political landscape relatively free of cheating.

And if you won't listen to me, then watch Bill Maher shred the purists and torch them into dust.  Share this.

== Uncle Ammo ==

Elsewhere I emphasize the most useful things you can do:

- Check on your own voter registration and all your friends, especially in swing districts where cheating and voter dumping are afoot. If you find any, yell.

- State assembly races are the most important ones! If there’s a swing district near you, or you know someone living in one!

- Fight in the trenches. You can still find a get out the vote drive.

And don't stop arguing. Yes, I know your mad-confederate dad or uncle or brother is beyond hopeless, glued to the Fox-teat, desperately gulping, even mainlining Hannity nostrums of hate toward law professionals and the FBI, the intelligence community and the U.S. military officer corps – half a million smart, dedicated “deep-state” conspirators who are all committing the same “treason” at the same time. 
And hate toward scientists, doctors, teachers and every other fact-using profession. If you’ve dared him to name one exception to this anti-all-smart-people pogrom, and he won’t even try, then sure, probably nothing will sway him. And yet…

…his wife may be listening, from the next room, and she can’t be bullied inside the polling booth. And maybe you can demoralize his confederate zealotry enough that he’ll drink those extra beers you gift to him, on election day. 

Or else maybe… just maybe… I’ve seen some RASRs (Residually Adult-Sane Republicans) lift their ostrich heads out of the sand. I’ve been responsible for a few.

Which is why I push using wagers. Properly parsed, they can corner any confederate and/or possibly get you a little cash. I’ve listed dozens of starkly-put bets, like going to a nearby beach together and personally measuring ocean acidification. But here’s a new one or two.

“What were the tangible outcomes of Donald Trump’s forays into diplomacy?”

- A president accused of collusion with despots fed more suspicion by meeting privately, without witnesses, with a murderous communist tyrant and gave that Korean commie lord everything he wanted, backstabbing our closest ally, in exchange for empty, vague promises. WAGER: you can’t name a single tangible outcome that benefited the U.S.

Now replace the word "Korean" with "Russian" (keep the commie part.)

== California ==

One of the largest, most-innovative and most-agile and productive economies in the world is California, despite endless, tedious howls from the right that businesses are driven away. In fact, no governor has ever been more popular than Jerry Brown, whose combination of skinflint budgetary prudence and skillful management has won fans even among the state’s business community, while the state leads the way in exploring the new era of environmental responsibility and truly equal rights. Here’s an article about how California has slashed childbirth mortality rates, even as the U.S. as a whole has stagnated or worsened.

Yes, wealth disparity indexes in California are pretty high. Ever ask why?  It’s because those who get rich in the state’s spectacular tech quarter – contrary to the yelps of every Texas governor – don’t leave!  They like it here, despite high taxes. And because it’s a land of opportunity, the poor flock in. Yes, faster than California can handle. It’s no utopia. And Climate Change threatens to burn us hard, every single year. And yes, there are islands of truly jabbering lefty-flakery and even PC bullying -- as happened at UC Irvine, recently. And let me be frank, the teachers’ unions need to relent on the issue of firing bad eggs. So? None of those anecdotes compare to the universal and contemptible utter-treason across all of today’s Confederate right.

We’ve learned. Slander must be answered. And we’ll no longer be lectured about “values” by regions that have far worse rates of STDs, gambling, teen sex, teen pregnancy, obesity, opioid addiction and every other turpitude you can name.  And if you want us to stop pointing that out, and help, instead? The answer is --  stop yowling that we’re evil. Stop screeching that all fact-using professionals and all university graduates and all people who know stuff are evil. And all the states where the future is being confronted, with courage and thoughtfulness. 

Stop it. Just stop. And we’ll go back to being generous as all heck.

 == Miscellaneous issues ==

Again, I explain why confirmation of water ice on the lunar poles is not a good enough reason to justify the fetish to send the U.S. back where we’ve already been, copying all the Apollo-copycats hurrying to the dusty-useless surface of the moon.  There are things America can do, that no one else can do. Also: defense against killer asteroids! Pre-cambrian 'explosions' and are octopi aliens? And is the economics of "The Expanse" remotely possible?

My song in praise of Adam Smith has been republished at Phil's Stock World.

If Two Scoops were a scientist... This posting is both funny and quite apt.
Addendum: Why do I call him "Two Scoops"? Because we need to learn the art of polemic! Trying to match Trump and Fox in nastiness is a mug's game, and you must chide any allies who drop to that level. (deNiro did no good for anyone.) But just the right kind of ridicule is a weapon, if (blatantly) they were first and worse.

There is nothing obscene or vicious about "Two Scoops." But it does trigger memory of DT's utter pettiness, fragile ego and stunning lack of basic values, like simple hospitality. The trick is that no one can claim you are being (very) vulgar and certainly not inaccurate! And dig it, this kind of nickname may even help convert a wavering republican, where screaming will just make him dig in his heels. Look for the win-win.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Transparency: sense and nonsense

Every breakthrough in communications was misused, before it gradually made us better. The printing press horribly exacerbated Europe’s religious wars. Radio and loudspeakers amplified the voices of demagogues and helped make the 1930s-40s hell on Earth. But eventually each new tech does expand what people can know and feel and understand.

Concerned about the malignant effects of social media?  Watch this video.  Of course it is 90% public relations. Still, I consulted with Facebook a year ago about the problems of misinformation and “echo chambers” on the web and social media, and I’m pleased they are implementing some of my suggestions, though it will be far from enough. As predicted in my 1989 novel EARTH (it had web pages), these poisonous effects will grow and expand before our more mature angels lead us back to amiably and positively argumentative citizenship.  

In the same theme: 3,517 Facebook ads were bought by Russians. Their dominant strategy: Sowing racial discord. Often taking both sides of the argument, as in vaccination, in order to sic Americans against each other.

Still, be pragmatic. You could be one of those people who actually sets your settings for privacy.  This article shows how.

== A ‘landmark’? ==

This is an important ruling and a minor victory for liberty -- but hardly a "landmark." 'A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Friday barred police from accessing cellphone records such as call listings and location data without first obtaining a search warrant.' It sounds marvelous right? But all such restrictions on the ability of elites to see will prove ephemeral. Accelerating tech ensures that any "walls" you erect will become transparent or useless across the following decade. Please, name one counter-example? Those who tried to ban face-recognition systems learned that the ability is proliferating into scads of apps.

There was a recent "landmark" -- in 2013, the best year for civil liberties in this century, so far -- when both the U.S. courts (Glik v Cunniffe) and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.

No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom. For in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

Notice the crucial difference. One 'landmark' encourages us to limit the power of an elite by hiding from them. It won't -- it cannot possibly -- work for long. 

The other encourages us to limit the power of an elite by looking back at them (sousveillance.) The first can be rendered moot, tomorrow. The second can be tech-enhanced ever onward, if we choose the braver-assertive path of active citizenship.

== The same old foolishness ==

An interesting article by Mariana Mazzucato on MIT Tech, suggests that many of our modern information age problems – such as being “farmed” by Internet giants for our information – might be addressed with a socialist approach… making most of the information about us into a “commons” where we all might benefit.  While I have some problems with some details, it is certainly in such a commons that we might at least get to see what is being done with our information, who is using it, and possibly even get paid for “interest” in knowledge about us, in a manner talked about by Jaron Lanier.

Caustically rejecting Dr, Mazzucato’s proposal is Aral Balkan, who insists that every individual should have sovereign control over his or her own portion of a balkanized infosphere, many billions of isolated cells, with every human attentive to which items of personal information are allowed to pass.  

“The crucial point here, however, is that this toxic way of building modern technology is not the only way to design and build modern technology. We know how to build free and open, decentralised, and interoperable systems where your data originates in a place that you – as an individual – own and control.”

What stunning, staggering towering malarkey. An example, please. Show us one example of such a system that has worked, persistently, at closing information flows in ways that stymie elite view and empower privacy and citizenship through concealment. There are no large scale examples, because it is technologically, logically and historically impossible. Nor is it even distantly related to the methods that we have used, across 200 years, to create a briefly flourishing era of individual creativity and freedom.

Again and again, since writing The Transparent Society, I’ve asserted. It’s not a important to fret over what elites know about you, as it is to have active, assertive power over what they can do to you. And that power is only derived from your knowledge of what they are up to. Balkanization of a secretive, cellular infoWeb can only benefit the mighty, who will have every tool to exploit cracks in those cell walls… and show me one such system – one, ever! – that did not have such exploitable cracks. 

But when elites are also naked, then they are limited in the number of henchmen they can hire without springing their own leaks. And…

…no, I will not try to summarize The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Where I argue we should stay faithful to the impudent method that worked for the only 200 year stretch of rising human freedom and happiness.  If you are actually curious, here are articles and speculations by David Brin about transparency, freedom and technology.  

== And more of the same ==

Continuing in the same vein: In a perfect example of the Aplha-Minus Effect, Rochelle Gurstein rails in the Baffler against “Self-Invasions and the Invaded Self,” denouncing the trend toward self-exposure in the modern world, as if she invented what is - in fact - the hand-wringing stance that’s standard across the depth and breadth of modern intelligencia, denouncing how we live in “a society that offers boundless opportunities for men and women to expose themselves (in all dimensions of that word) as never before, to commit what are essentially self-invasions of privacy.” 

Continues Dr. Gurstein: “Although this is a new phenomenon, it has become as ubiquitous as it is quotidian, and for that reason, it is perhaps one of the most telling signs of our time.”

No, it is not a new phenomenon, not even remotely. Across all the history of our species, most humans lived in either tribes or villages in which power was disproportionately wielded by chieftains and their thugs and priests… and by the busybody gossips who pounced on every minor indiscretion or exposed weakness.  And exposed we were, in those ancestral villages, vastly more than we are today, when both physical walls and the law protect the interior spaces of our large homes.  

No. What is new is not our degree of exposure, but the extent to which it is voluntary - a choice taken by many millions to step out and preen in the open. A choice that wins them patronizing contempt from those who… like Rochelle. Gurstein… are waving their arms and shouting “look at me, instead!” from the page-screens of hifalutin intelligencia zines, not Instagram. This elitist contempt is richly expressed: 

“To get a sense of the sheer range of unconscious exhibitionism, we need only think of the popularity of reality TV shows, addiction-recovery memoirs, and cancer diaries. Then there are the banal but even more conspicuous varieties, like soaring, all-glass luxury apartment buildings and hotels in which inhabitants display themselves in all phases of their private lives to the casual glance of thousands of city walkers below. Or the incessant sound of people talking loudly—sometimes gossiping, sometimes crying—on their cell phones, broadcasting to total strangers the intimate details of their lives.”

To be clear, I agree that much of this modern self-exposure is both puerile and somewhat unwise. Though it does go way back, as she herself refers. 

“As (Henry) James put it in his description of the newspaperman in The Bostonians: “For this ingenuous son of his age all distinction between the person and the artist had ceased to exist; the writer was personal, the person food for newsboys, and everything and everyone were everyone’s business.””

Professor Gurstein proceeds to erect a series of strawmen to knock down, like the notion that anyone of note today might actually, actually be saying “Why seek privacy; do you have something to hide?” 

Um, please cite one example of that cliché being uttered by anyone of significance? One example? Even just one? Oh, but the series of strawmen continues:

“It is no wonder, then, that the world we inhabit together feels ever more ugly, coarse, and trivial. When the boundary between public and private becomes as extremely porous as it is today, we lose far more than “that kingdom of the mind, that inner world of personal thought and feeling in which every man passes some time,” which would have been disastrous enough.”

In fact, the private individual has never had more sovereignty than in today’s west, wherein personal eccentricity is vouchsafed protection by both law and relentless Hollywood messages. Yes, we continue to reform, always in the same direction of more tolerance, not less. Again and again we find just one limitation that consistently is applied to check that expansion of individual sovereignty, one criterion - is there a victim? 

If your eccentricity is one that hampers the livelihood or eccentric freedom of others, then you face opprobrium.  And note: if my assertion makes you angry, because we do not live up to that image well enough, consider that your very reaction is an example! 

Your eagerness to make it more true is shared by millions. In truth by a majority of your neighbors.

Among her article's few moments of lucidity, Rochelle Gurstein asks: “How can we begin to think about protecting our private experiences and our common world from more and more brazen indifference to their inherent fragility? The first thing we need to recognize is that the law is no help.”

Here we agree. No, law won’t protect you from the tsunami of light, nor will whining, or commanding the tide to go back out. 

What does have a chance of helping individual humans maintain some degree of safety, sovereignty, and even a little privacy is exactly the thing that dour svengalis rail against… light itself. If average people are empowered to see all elites, enforcing MYOB or “Mind Your Own Business”, then they may have deterrence.

This is not theoretical. Everywhere in the West that light has poured, oppression gained stigma and eventually began to fade. It is the thing – the only thing – that works.

Oh, I know what’s going on in China. The Social Credit system is turning light into the enemy of eccentricity, or freedom, or diversity and accountability. It could have that effect here, too. Which is why it’s all the more urgent that we study the west’s immune system against oppression and conformity. Light can be the enemy of those things, if it empowers feudal elites and gossips to push us around, as in the villages of old.  

Or it can empower us to hold elites and busybodies accountable and hold them at bay. What matters is our shared value system. And the pivot could not be more clear:

If I am right about our value systems re: eccentricity and tolerance and MYOB, then we have a chance. If I am wrong, then what does Dr. Gurstein think she’s accomplishing with her jeremiads?

Will transparency be used that way?  Here, at last, I have some overlap with the writer – (disclosure: she and I have had tussles, before) -- because the choice will be ours and it will depend upon our “sensibilities” or values. 

“How can we revive those aspects of the reticent sensibility that we need in circumstances radically different from the world in which they originally emerged? What would be their new foundation? I am sorry to report that I find myself at a complete loss for an answer.”

Yes, yes. That much is truthful and clear. That admission of failed imagination may indeed be the first step on the road to wisdom. The next is admitting that some things have actually worked, in our recent past. And squinting to perceive what they were.