Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Covid insights... but don't forget the political implications.

AlertWith oil near $0, there's no reason for a vulnerable US carrier group to be anywhere near the dangerously confined and provocative Straits of Hormuz... except to serve as a "Tonkin Gulf" trip wire. Putin needs a US-Iran war to raise both oil prices and Trump's polls. Keep an eye on this.

 == Some Covid-related flash thoughts ==

(1) Might the many who have but have antibodies, but no symptoms, have been exposed through food rather than breathing?" asks Joseph Carroll. 'Attenuated, it may not reproduce fast enough to outrace immunity." We assume the virus is killed in stomach acids. But the esophagus other points of entry might offer attenuated lethality... to many, not all. Even if true, don't restart "edibles" versions of “Corona Parties” yet! Because the virus can be brutal outside the lungs, if it gains traction almost anywhere. “[It] can attack almost anything in the body [and] Its ferocity is breathtaking.”  Both views may be partly right, for some populations and some strains. 

(2) Meanwhile, this article in the South China Morning Post suggests that Covid-19's mutation rate is far higher than previously thought, with some strains - like the one attacking most of Europe and New York - being especially aggressive and deadly.

(3) And yes it's either criminal negligence or much worse. For example: the National Security Council gave Donald Trump a 69-page pandemic plan three years ago — he ignored it. Snopes has verified: “The Trump administration fired the U.S. pandemic response team in 2018 to cut costs.” And that's just one of maybe fifty culpable failures.

(And there were ignored warnings from science fiction. My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” explores our complex relationships with viruses and such, including the several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts… and yes read it for free.)

(4) The anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine Trump touted is linked to higher rates of death in VA coronavirus patients, a VA study says. Even more strongly it says "no net benefit." And yes, when combined with that antibiotic.

(5) We need right now to start massing tracking of even the non-symptomatic infected for hidden effects. We mentioned non-lung damage, above. But further, some viruses are known to have downstream effects like triggering cancers. While I doubt this... or an HIV-style immune system attack... it means "we'll get past this" merits adding a "maybe."

(6) Lots of infected/recovered folks donating plasma for experiments using serum from covid survivors to help the ill. (I wasn't able to give my 96th pint because I'm (probably) pure and uninfected! Can't have that!) Here's a summary of efforts to evaluate this possible treatment.

(7) A couple of non-covid blips: Most years I try to warn folks in March to be wary when traveling during the 3rd week of April. Nut jobs often go rampaging on 4/19 - the anniversary of the Waco Debacle and Oklahoma City bombing. And the next day is old Adolf's birthday and Columbine Day. (Why did cannabis folks choose 4/20? Were they nuts?) And now the Nova Scotia shooter. See other mid-April jolts here. And Stay safe. Beware Holnists.

Oh but the 4th week of April starts with Earth Day... now its 50th Anniversary. So take heart. And yes, Earth.

(7) Finally, a Republican-led Senate review unanimously supported the conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, undercutting claims by President Trump and his allies that the findings were those of a “deep state” seeking to undermine his victory. Demand wagers from your MAGAs, now that every GOP senator agrees with the Deep State.

== The contrast that nails them ==

Biden's Health Play In a COVID-19 Economy: Lower Medicare's Eligibility Age To 60.”  

Well, yes, that is half of my recommendation! But it's the other half that would make election-winning headlines. 

Also include all children, up to age 25! You'll gain converts from most parents in America! Then comes the capper. Include an escalator. A year after the law takes effect, the not-covered age range becomes 27-to-58... then 28-to-57... then 29-to-56... automatically. Watch how quickly insurance companies then rush to (at last) negotiate in good faith.

And even if the GOP retakes Congress (as they did in '94 and 2010) they won't dare rip this away from the nation's kids. Unlike "Medicare for all," this could easily be afforded out of just ending Supply Side voodoo. And hence, no need to rail over "How you gonna pay for it?" Since the more complex issues have been put off for later (middle aged folks stay with employer insurance or medicaid,... at first), This version could pass within one month of a new Congress sitting in session. And support would span the spectrum from AOC types to moderates to sane Republicans.  

So good for you Joe. That's a baby step toward something both truly disruptive and affordable. See more in Polemical Judo.

== Judo your way past their reflex defenses ==

It is a grievous error for democrats to leap and proclaim "deficits don't matter!" Savvy guys like Reich and Krugman have been doing this and it's a trap. A free giveaway of a choice campaign rejoinder that just reinforces an image that helps Fox hold onto working stiffs. 

Vastly better is to shout: "Republicans are the budget-busting wastrel biggest spenders! Not only do they almost ALWAYS throw away more money and increase debt faster (care to bet on it?) but they waste it on "supply side voodoo" gifts to the super rich and oligarchs and mafias....

"...At least we'd spend it on making healthy, educated children who can then compete with the rich in flat-fair-open markets. Yes Democrats would spend extra in a recession, as FDR did, but look at the states! In good times, Democrats pay down debt! No Republican does that, ever!"

Anyway, there is a reason why US conservatives and especially libertarians never mention Adam Smith, who taught the fantastic creative power of flat-fair competition. They veer away to worship Milton Friedman and “Supply Side” incantations, or Ayn Rand, or apocalypse fetishism… or sigging a playground bully, rather than face the pure fact that Adam Smith today would be a Roosevelt Democrat:

"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all." 
          -Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations (1776)

== Political potpourri ==

A member of the Supreme Court Bar resigns and tells John Roberts off. Wow, on target and apropos of this era’s John Taney.

And double wow in contrast, what a deep bench of women Biden could choose a running mate. Michigan Governor Whitmer has had a lot of attention, lately. Bottoms and Duckworth and Masto offer big diversity points while being solid folks. (Duckworth also has political and veteran chops, though is from a bluest state.) I doubt Klobuchar, who does nothing to salve the left. Harris is strong on paper (and ranks #1 on this list), but yipe do her huge brains and savvy and feistiness (and racial points) make up for the sense she has knives up her sleeves, eyeing everyone in sight?

Okay, a year ago I predicted Biden-Warren. And that he'll depart after 3 years, giving her nine, after she garners some executive experience. (She has none, but is a fast learner.)

Let's be clear on the Veep Record. Democrats always pick someone who is qualified to serve as president... and who is somewhat boring. 

Republican nominees since WWII have all but once picked a living horror, a wretched "ticket balancer" who is spectacularly not-qualified, with no thought to the national consequences.

That exception? Ronald Reagan chose as running mate a fellow who - on paper - was supremely well-qualified... and who went on to be the very worst US president of the 20th Century... who set the stage for two of the worst in the history of the republic.

Want another consistent pattern? Democratic ex-presidents are manic, they spend the rest of their lives scooting around busy trying to save the world. e.g. Jimmy Carter. Republican presidents always "retire to the ranch" or golf or paint. The pattern goes back (perfectly) to Ike. 

== Twitter metrics ==

And now some other analytics that could help you convince someone about the emperor’s non-clothes…

The New York Times analyzed Trump's 11,390 tweets since becoming president, and found he praised himself 2,026 times

Stylistic variation on the Donald Trump Twitter account: A linguistic analysis of tweets posted between 2009 and 2018.

Text Analysis of Trump's Tweets - an Online Project.

Twitter Analysis shows How Trump Tweets Differently About Nonwhite Lawmakers.

Do not let Covid distract you from what's important -- saving the Western Enlightenment Experiment and the American dynamic progress toward better horizons. This crisis should make you more determined than ever


Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

It means most of the world consider's the US president to be "their" president, as well.

Since some time around WWII, "Leader of the free world" has been an unofficial title assumed to belong to whoever was President of the United States. It is both appropriate and noticeable that no one dares refer to Donald Trump by that phrase. And my cynical self doubts that we can ever get that title back, having lost it.

A.F. Rey said...

or sigging a playground bully...

Ah, is that the word you intended to use?

David Brin said...

AFR - I admit it's obscure. "Sigging" as in Sig Heil.

LH, just watch how citizens of every free or semi free nation react when we trounce these bastards.

I offered Greg B a wager over that. So it's not just confederates I use that on. Sometimes friends. Well, I'm a jerk, according to some. ;-)

Darrell E said...

Fun fact. Most here probably know that a jerk is the 3rd derivative of position, and surely everyone knows that velocity and acceleration are the 1st & 2nd derivatives. But did you know that there are also names for the 4th, 5th & 6th derivatives of position? In order they are snap, crackle and pop.

What the heck they are used for I don't know.

Nearly my entire life I've been hoping to get this question in a game of trivial pursuit or something so that I could make use of this information at least once in my life.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

I admit it's obscure. "Sigging" as in Sig Heil.

Wouldn't "heiling" be the verb?

Larry Hart said...

From the "member of the Supreme Court Bar" link in the main post.

Wow! No punches pulled here.

I no longer have respect for you or your majority, and I have little hope for change. I can’t vote you out of office because you have life tenure, but I can withdraw whatever insignificant support my Bar membership might seem to provide.

David Brin said...

Okay, this may be tinfoil hat stuff! So grains of salt, eh? It may be an effort to give DT an excuse to fire Fauci. Still...

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Republican presidents always "retire to the ranch" or golf ...

Some don't wait until they're retired.

David Brin said...

Darrell, you got any sort of link for that? "Pop" is already used in stock trading...

DJM said...

I'm surprised this isn't in the news: The USA has about 1800 deaths per day from heart disease, and 1650 deaths per day from cancer (the two leading causes of death according to Since COVID-19 deaths have been averaging around 2000 per day for the last couple of weeks, it's currently the leading cause of death.

Hopefully this won't last long enough to bring the annual total into the heart disease/cancer range, but why would anyone consider relaxing control measures that appear to work against the leading cause of death in the USA?

A German Nurse said...

I didn't consider Obamua'dib to be boring. For me, he had a calm aura of confidence and showed, sometimes, a sense of humor and self-irony.

David Brin said...

Polemical Judo is now available via Smashwords, after finishing its 3 month exclusive on Kindle, meaning you can get mobi or e-pub files! Alas, we must not have formatted it to Smashwords’s exacting standard, because the version they’ve posted is ‘basic’ and I see none of the 200+ endnotes, which they say would be visible in “premium” formatting.

Would one of you like to order a copy to reassure me that it's working? Well, also in order to have and read the book. It's cheap!

I am seeking professional help - as many of you have urged over the years - to get the premium version with footnotes. Polemical Judo is now available via Smashwords, after finishing its 3 month exclusive on Kindle, meaning you can get mobi or e-pub files! Alas, we must not have formatted it to Smashwords’s exacting standard, because the version they’ve posted is ‘basic’ and I see none of the 200+ endnotes, which they say would be visible in “premium” formatting.

Would one of you like to order a copy to reassure me that it's working? Well, also in order to have and read the book. It's cheap!

I am seeking professional help - as many of you have urged over the years - to get the premium version with footnotes and to get it on Kobo & B&N etc.

duncan cairncross said...

Something I was thinking

George Marshall - and the "Marshall Plan" - is correctly seen as one of if not the most significant "Heroes" of the 20th Century

The Chinese "Belt and Road" initiative appears to be the 21st Century equivalent
Thoughts on this from the group?

TCB said...

Checking Coronaviruis Dashboard I now see that US Covid deaths have surpassed US combat deaths in the Vietnam War.

Here's the famous photo of Lyndon Johnson with his head on the desk, listening to a taped report from Vietnam.

I can't find any pictures of Donald Trump caring about other people.

David Brin said...

So far, it looks like Belt and Road is rapaciously predatory, requiring each 'recipient' nation to take our loans from Chinese banks and contract all construction to Chinese companies with the resulting harbors or railroads forfeited to China upon a missed payment. That is not to say there weren't some stinky things under Alliance for Progress. But nothing like this or so systematically.

Lorraine said...

The trap that ensnares Democrats again and again isn't "deficits don't matter," it's Jude Wanniski's "Two Santa Claus Theory." I'm not entirely sold on MMT, but I'm entirely convinced austerity (i.e. deficit hawkery) is what hollowed out sub-yuppie-class America.

Much-less-than-half measures like lowering Medicare age to 60? Surely 2020 has been the year that showed employer-based healthcare to be the house of cards it always was. It needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice.

David Brin said...

Lorraine you miss the point:

1) Medicare at 60 and for all under age 25 could pass IMMEDIATELY! You are probably too young to remember the disaster wrought by Hillary Clinton in 1993 when - as 1st Lady - she led a two year effort to create a vastly complex universal health system that the Foxites easily mocked and portrayed as instant leninism. Th PRACTICAL effect? We got nothing zip, at all! And Newt came with his "Contract' and the narrow Clinton window to get things done was lost.

Obama too, had just a 2 year window, and aware of the 93 debacle he hurried to get what he could - Obamacare - and lefty ingrates simply assume it was his 'conservatism." Bull, he did what he could with his 2 years and the 111th congres, till the flakes on the left stayed home in 2010, betraying him and any chance to move on to stage 2.

We may just have a few months in 2021... or years, either way, we need to pass in the first 3 months (!!!) a contingency stack of vital measures that will save democracy, fact-driven decision making, a strong civil service and the basics of decent life. And you would know all this if you cracked open Polemical Judo. Do you even recall the list of 31 things Biden and Bernie and AOC ALL WANT?

You did not even bother this time to parse the logic of the "escalator" I spoke of in the main post, which would put the insurance companies into a death spiral if they didn't hurry to negotiate rather than obstruct. And since you didn't bother... why should I?

I won't address your other point because you haven't earned my attention at all.

yana said...

previous thread, Alfred Differ thought:

"We WILL build military installations up there. Probably as the result of being surprised in an earlier battle that has yet to happen."

Huh? Are you new to Earth? Welcome, but those things are already there, you should have seen them on your way down. Not just brute nukes, but we have beam weapons aloft too. Are you kidding, you didn't follow the money trail after the funding surge of Reagan's Star Wars Defense?

There's a giant black box of defense funding ever since, and even though we can't (and shouldn't) know everything the money goes for, we can see the size of the funding, and we can tell many of the companies who get contracts. A rabbit doesn't need a carrot jabbed into its eye, to see that we have been putting weapons into orbit for 30 years.

To think otherwise would be to impugn the reputation of all the US armed forces, charged not only to face threats but to anticipate them. For about 15 years, we have had the military ability to fry a single target's head until it pops, from space. Just think of the political resolve it takes, to not use that power. Truly, a testament to the wisdom of having a democracy be as broad as possible.

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"Michigan Governor Whitmer has had a lot of attention, lately. Bottoms and Duckworth and Masto offer big diversity points while being solid folks. (Duckworth also has political and veteran chops, though is from a bluest state.) I doubt Klobuchar, who does nothing to salve the left. Harris is strong on paper"

So Klobuchar doesn't lick the eternal sores of the burnout Berners? Aww, poor pissy little pouty twots that they are, they probably thought election day was 3 days ago, agonizing between Bubblegum, LG, Electric Moss, or/and straight Kush. They're never going to vote anyway, the same kind of posers who showed up to the first Earth Day just because they heard chicks there wouldn't be wearing bras.

What did we say last week? "No more pandering to the hard left."

Smartest choice is Abrams. Might not swing Georgia, but might swing NC and #FilthyFlorida. And might swing Georgia. Maybe. Second smartest choice is Klobuchar, who can speak Michigandese and Wisconsemitic. Ole Joe can already speak Pennsylandian, which is linguistic sibling to Ohionics. Kamala talks Californdian, but that doesn't bring a single new Electoral College vote.

If it does happen, Stacey swinging Georgia, then it's curtains for the Grand Old Cheaters, nationwide and in a multi-generational sense.

Larry Hart said...

The New York Times continues to agree with me on the tragic loss of American leadership:


But this is perhaps the first global crisis in more than a century where no one is even looking to the United States for leadership.

In Berlin, Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said as much.

China took “very authoritarian measures, while in the U.S., the virus was played down for a long time,” Mr. Maas recently told Der Spiegel magazine.

“These are two extremes, neither of which can be a model for Europe,” Mr. Maas said.

America once told a story of hope, and not just to Americans. West Germans like Mr. Maas, who grew up on the front line of the Cold War, knew that story by heart, and like many others in the world, believed it.

But nearly three decades later, America’s story is in trouble.

The country that defeated fascism in Europe 75 years ago next month, and defended democracy on the continent in the decades that followed, is doing a worse job of protecting its own citizens than many autocracies and democracies.

There is a special irony: Germany and South Korea, both products of enlightened postwar American leadership, have become potent examples of best practices in the coronavirus crisis.

But critics now see America failing not only to lead the world’s response, but letting down its own people as well.

“There is not only no global leadership, there is no national and no federal leadership in the United States,” said Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Growth Lab at Harvard’s Center for International Development. “In some sense this is the failure of leadership of the U.S. in the U.S.”

Darrell E said...

Here you go Dr Brin.

Fourth, fifth, and sixth derivatives of position

Turns out there are other names for the 4th (snap or jounce) and 6th (pop or pounce) derivatives, which I was not aware of.

Evan M said...

Another politically savvy way to expand medicare now is ... medicare for all infectious diseases.

Everyone can see that in the case of infectious diseases, taking care of everyone helps not just the patients.

Keith Halperin said...

@Dr Brin re: 4/20 Day:
The legend of the Waldos
According to Chris Conrad, curator of the Oaksterdam Cannabis Museum in Oakland, California, 420 started as a secret code among high schoolers in the early 1970s.

A group of friends at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California, who called themselves "the Waldos," would often meet at 4:20 p.m. to get high.

For them, it was an ideal time: They were out of school but their parents still weren't home, giving them a window of unsupervised freedom. They met at that time every day near a statue of Louis Pasteur, the scientist who pioneered pasteurization.

The 4:20 time became a code for them to use in front of their unsuspecting parents, and 420 gradually spread from there -- possibly via Grateful Dead followers -- across California and beyond. It's even the number of a California Senate bill that established the state's medial marijuana program.

What was shorthand for a group of friends can now be seen on T-shirts and throughout pop culture.

Stay Well,


Lorraine said...

I remember the Clinton trial balloon in 1993. I also remember the "Harry and Louise" astroturf and the talk radio redbaiting. That more than anything else convinced me that the right will redbait anything Democratic politicians do, so they may as well make bold moves. Like my comrade Kevin Carson sez: "Trump's smashing down the right end of the Overton Window with a bulldozer. Biden's busy with a micrometer finding the exact midpoint between Trump's position and where Democrats stood the last time they shifted to the center." Democrats get too hung up on 12-dimensional chess, when the relevant game is chicken.

I was opposed to the 1993 Clinton plan at the time, mainly because the public sector component was to be district-based, like school districts in public education, which I saw as far worse even than the status quo ante. There was also to be an employer mandate for firms with more than five employees, and I figured the corporations would just re-organize by spinning off innumerable 5-person workgroups as vendors. At the time my own status within the workforce was as a permatemp, which is the switch end of the bait-and-switch advertised as "temp to perm."

The post-1980 labor market is about pulling out all the stops when it comes to minimizing utilization of in-house labor, and leaning on the contingent workforce as heavily as possible. The real legacy of America's (wrong) decision to go with employment-based healthcare goes beyond the public health effects, such as being basically outside the first world in public health stats such as life expectancy and infant mortality. There is also the number that the stark dichotomy between jobs with bennies and contingent workforce jobs did on the career development of generations X and younger. No more starting out in the mailroom and working your way up from there etc. as mailroom operations are outsourced. The younger generations to a much greater degree. My age cohort entered adulthood at a time when as much labor as possible was being farmed out to the temp agencies or broken up into part time jobs. The millennials have to deal with the so-called sharing economy, basically piecework, entirely outside of the legal definition of wage labor, and of course outside the jurisdiction of labor law, even the parts of it governing part time and temporary labor.

I'm convinced that making reforms within the employment-based healthcare system is a guaranteed dead end. I don't see any way for that to be a foundation that can be built on.

David Brin said...

Keith: interesting and probably apocryphal stories… and it’s still and remains Hitler’s Birthday.

Lorraine are you deliberately a Putin agent or merely an obstinate sucker for their favorite ploy? Sorry to be offensive but it’s that bad. Your statement is a pure archetype of how they neutralize the left with dogmatic purity memes: “the right will redbait anything Democratic politicians do, so they may as well make bold moves.’

Abso freaking lutely bullshit! Yes, there is a 40% of the population who’s insane, and cheating leverages that minority into power. But they operate on fragile margins and declining demographics that require ever more cheating. If we shatter THAT then the actual majority has a real chance, and you don’t get that by raging purity “evil-DNC!!” sputum in the faces of the moderates who share the drive to end-cheating.

You have learned nothing whatsoever from the 92 and 2008 waves… which were followed by folks like you pompously sitting out 94 and 2010. We might - maybe - have another such window in 2021 and it will require a TWO-STEP approach, fist passing IMMEDIATELY the simplest possible and clearest reforms that have consensus across the entire coalition and that 3 or 4 GOP senators might go along with, as well… or at least get out of the way…

… and then, once those 31 shared reforms have saved the republic, ended cheating, restored the civil service and inspectors and ourr alliances and sciences, and insured all children, then we can argue over how much farther to go and how to pay for it.

And what am I doing, wasting my time? You STILL utterly ignore the “escalator” part of my posting, proving you aren’t here to argue the merits of my proposal, only to repeat the mistakes of 93 and 2009.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Keith: interesting and probably apocryphal stories… and it’s still and remains Hitler’s Birthday.

Taking Keith's explanation at face value--and I've heard similar stories other places--that's an unfortunate coincidence, but the marijuana "4:20" was a time of day, not a date.

jim said...

10's of millions of people were born on april 20, calling that date "Hitler's Birthday" is giving that evil mass murderer too much prominence. It is kind of weird, you are the only person I know of that has a problem with the number 420.

jim said...

As far as the election goes, the massive hit to the economy should spell trouble for Trump.
Along with his very polarizing nature (the American people have not really rallied around the president in this crisis.) motivating the opposition and his poor overall support means he should loose badly in November.

But this is a really weird year, we will have to see how the economy and pandemic goes for the next 6 months. Trump still has a very large number of fanatical supporters. Biden is also a very weak uninspiring candidate.

And then there is the issue that even if the democrats win the white house, senate and house how will they act? I sure don’t see Joe Biden being willing to act like FDR nor the majority of the democrats in congress. ( I honestly see them far more likely to be like H, Hoover – far too conventional and timid.)

SteveO said...

Dr. Brin, somewhat off topic, but I thought I would give you a heads-up about mentioning your Holocene Chat invention in my blog:

Now really would have been the time for that to shine, since I make the case in the blog that while Zoom or whatever replaces a meeting, nothing replaces collaboration like Holocene Chat could have. In fact, HC would be superior for "knowing what is going on around the office" than being in the office.

Here's hoping someday it gets picked up by someone and developed!

Acacia H. said...

I have to admit a wry curiosity if Elon Musk may have inadvertently been right!

Because he promised "ventilators" but ended up sending CPAP machines instead and got into a hissy fit when states stated 'these aren't ventilators and won't work'

It seems ventilation is not the best bet to survive this. Instead, leaving ventilators for those who just can't breathe, and providing oxygen and air flow to those having troubles breathing but who still can breath? That may be the better option. And in that case, CPAP machines (which are non-invasive) may in fact be just what the doctor ordered for patients struggling to breath but who would die if ventilated.


Jon S. said...

We did not get marriage equality as the law of the land because radicals in Congress insisted on jumping straight there immediately. It happened because we started with eliminating state laws against "miscegenation" (it still surprises me sometimes that my marriage was illegal in 17 states until I was six years old); then later when some states began making "gay marriage" legal, it could be pointed out that most of the objections were the same as those raised against interracial marriages, and God had not yet smote us all. (The others were shown to be just as applicable to old or infertile people marrying, and therefore just as silly.)

You want universal health care in the US? Start at the local level. Let it spread. And eventually someone will sue to stop it, bringing the fact that it's been working for you to national attention, and causing it to sort of slide into existence nationwide. But if you insist on skipping the earlier steps because of "incrementalism", you're just encouraging those who support the status quo (for whatever reasons they might have) to dig in their heels and refuse.

Laurence said...

And the next day is old Adolf's birthday and Columbine Day.

I was filling out a form at an induction for a new job on Monday and asked what the date was. When the interviewer said the 20th my first thought was "hey, I think it's Hitler's birthday!" (I'm a history graduate so I know these things) quickly followed by "best not say that out loud!"

Keith Halperin said...

@ Everybody:
ISTM the potential for significant positive societal and political change is here, and may allow for greater changes than was the case only a few PP (Pre-Pandemic) weeks ago.
It is clear that virtually any (even the most moderate positive) changes will be vehemently opposed by the GOP (Gangrenous Oligarchs & Putinists) and their allies.
Consequently, I believe the D's should carefully consider which areas to focus on (OGH's "31 Points" would be a good starter), and perhaps push it slightly further onward. (Dr. Brin, would you now add/modify your 31 points?)
The key is to get a few thousand more people on our side in the swing states, hold the House, and take back the Senate.
We win some modest victories, continually build on them, and do not relax/become complacent/arrogant. (*EVER)
We then, in a spirit of magnanimity and reconciliation to the Trumpists, "take it (their 'piece') away from them, stick it up their asses and pull the f***ing trigger 'til it goes 'click.'"

Stay Well, Gentle Readers

*"Eternal paranoia is the price of liberty. Vigilance is not enough"
-Len Deighton

Larry Hart said...


calling that date "Hitler's Birthday" is giving that evil mass murderer too much prominence. It is kind of weird, you are the only person I know of that has a problem with the number 420.

Maybe the connection to the marijuana 4:20 is tenuous, but Dr Brin isn't the only one who knows to watch out for right-wing terrorists and "lone wolves" using Hitler's birthday as an excuse to engage in mayhem. Also April 30, the day der Furher killed himself (or the day his brain was removed and implanted in a new body).

David Brin said...

SteveO thanks for the Holocene shout-out. As it happens , therehas just recently been some interest in seeing how the patent may apply to the zooming worlds of meetingware and Augmented Reality.

Acacia, yeah. My own efforts have been to help a local fluidics company invent brilliant CPAP machines you can build with $100 of Home Dept parts. See:

JonS… preening radicals love to shriek “incrementalism!” at such reforms. Today they howl that Obama took his time ending the EEEEEEVIL policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” utterly forgetting how hard they fought FOR the policy of DA,DT, when it was a major step away from previous policies of harassment, and it functionally protected gay military folks till a time came to push for the next step. The history of America has been (too slow) incremental reform. It's been too glacial... but better by far than all radical revolutions.

Larry Hart said...


When the interviewer said the 20th my first thought was "hey, I think it's Hitler's birthday!" (I'm a history graduate so I know these things) quickly followed by "best not say that out loud!"

I would have been going, "Did I say that or think it?"

David Brin said...

Keith I’d change my 31 reforms list if folks have suggestions. But why nibble at it when absolutely no one is spreading the word or talking about them? There comes a point where it’s just banging head against wall.

I may be acerbic to jim (and others) but this time he’s right, fair enough. Lot’s of 4/20 birth-persons weren’t Hitler. Okay. Point taken. I never thought of that. Still, pragmatically, it might be best to avoid further unnecessary uses of a date that has growing redolence on the mad right.

As for what the dems might do in office, well, your obstinate repetition may work elsewhere. But here you WILL get caught and asked yet again about those 31 absolute-minimum consensus reforms that ALL Democrats want and that are so clear and reasonable that critically necessary few Republicans may step aside and not interfere. Items so simple they can pass in the first, absolutely vital 90 days. Items Biden will push for (if his advisors parse them well,.. which won’t happen, alas), because they’d unitge the entire coalition and be mostly popular.

Reforms so important they will change America utterly, giving radicals like YOU and Lorraine a fair chance to make your case for further actions, based on evidence and facts.

Above all, 31 reforms that would make it harder for the Foxites to pull their switcheroo in 2022 as they did in 94 and 2008, you lefty cynics stayed home and gave us the world we now see.

David Brin said...

A couple of videomemes you all may enjoy. The first one perfectly riffs off “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which no American male of my generation can ever resist - turning it into a rousing call to battle “The Liar Tweets tonight.”

The second is a well-produced one that's cool and on-target, though ironic that they push "no red no blue" in a tune that was originally militant that one side - the blue - had to win...

as it does...

Alfred Differ said...


I was referring to the kinds of sites where people are present. It's one thing to have a mostly automated platform in orbit and quite another to have human eyes and hands present. However, you brought up the Hollywood Cover Story, so I'll address that too.

In a past life, I was involved in a couple of aerospace startups as a founder. No successes, unfortunately. As a practical matter, though, our failures weren't due to lack of research or inability to understand what our customers wanted. Since one of the big customers was DoD (specifically the space-oriented commands), we had to pay attention to the size of their budgets and the capabilities they wanted.

In my current life, I'm a DoD contractor doing mostly boring IT support work for DoN. I support people who support people who support our Fleet. There are neat things happening that I can see from a distance and progress is being made. Maybe some day I'll get back into the mix.

There is a huge disconnect between the way Hollywood portrays our military might in space and what it actually is. Almost all of our orbital assets of military value are about intelligence gathering. WWII taught us a profound lesson when our inferior fleet beat and crippled the Japanese fleet at Midway. The lesson was re-enforced with the success of Cold War submarine intelligence gathering techniques and practically cast in mental stone once we got recon capabilities in orbit. (Ike did something pretty sneaky and the Soviets fell for it. Damn near cemented our advantage.)

The brilliance of Reagan's SDI stuff is that it was a bluff that only the US could pass off on anyone. If anyone on Earth COULD have made SDI work, it was us. Freakishly expensive project, but so was WWII to us and we came out of that on top. We had a history with freakishly expensive projects. Manhattan, Apollo, etc. It didn't matter whether we could actually do it. What mattered was the appearance of trying. The paranoid bastards on the Soviet side HAD to take that into account.

As for nukes in orbit, I rather doubt it. Those things can be detected. Worse yet, they require maintenance to ensure they function as designed. Hard to do while they are in orbit. There IS an element of truth buried in the Hollywood myth, though. IF you are about to engage in a nuclear exchange, it is useful to have a number of them staged in orbit. We aren't, though… about to engage in a nuclear exchange. Every staged device must be maintained on a regular schedule. That ain't happening.

As for beam weapons… well… Hollywood overstates our capabilities because it makes for better action scenes in movies. Targeting lasers aren't beam weapons. They are pointers for other weapon systems to use. Also, beam weapons require huge amounts of power. Want to shoot down a satellite? Put the laser in a special purpose plane, pitch up when the satellite comes overhead, and zap. FAR, FAR cheaper. That's missing the point, though. Our work on beam weapons isn't about frying easy targets let alone heads. It's about frying ballistic and hyper-speed missiles. Satellites are easy and follow known tracks. The missiles are the immediate military threat. Missile carrying vehicles too by proxy. It's difficult, though, because once the beam is turned on, EVERYONE in the vicinity knows exactly where the emanation point is.

Most people won't be convinced by what I say, though. They prefer to believe the Hollywood Cover Story. It's a bit like folks who want to believe there were/are aliens at Area 51. No matter, really, since we are working at better military capabilities in space. Hollywood will gradually alter the cover story and y'all probably won't notice.

Anonymous said...

@ Dr. Brin:
Thanks. I may have missed something..."giving radicals like YOU", "you lefty cynics stayed home".
I don't recall advocating anything *"radical", and I haven't stayed home-
I voted for **Sanders in the California Primary and amperfectly fine with Biden as the nominee. I vote even in the primaries and off-year local/initiative elections, and called folks for Hillary in 2016...If you meant those comments for somebody else, it wasn't clear...

Stay Well

* I WISH I could vote for a party like the Canadian New Democrats or the Northern European Social Democrats, but that's not what we've got here, so I vote for the D's, like my fine U.S. Rep: Jackie Speier...
**Voted for Hillary in the 2016 CA Primary.

jim said...

Well David
Apparently we see your 31 points much the same way " absolutely no one is spreading the word or talking about them".

So in my mind these 31 points are not consensus goals of the democratic party and we should not expect them to be put into legislation.

I am less interested in what the elected democrats are saying and a more interested in what they are doing. I am not impressed with what the democrats have done in the house.

David Brin said...

Keith I was talking to "jim" with the "you," not you.

Alfred Differ said...

On the point of Covid-19 related politics...

There have been 26 million jobless claims filed in the US in the last five weeks.
If these people vote, that IS going to matter.

Whether we want to avoid corona virus deaths or not (seriously... who does?), the politicians are going to be pressured by unemployment claims. Angry voters vote angry, so it will matter a great deal who appears to be harming them the most. Lack of preparedness is one thing. Lock-outs are another.

I want Trump gone so bad I can taste the acid coming up my throat, but I recognize we might have to take corona virus risks to get that accomplished. I don't like it, but that might be the reality.

The vote margin in CA is likely to be overwhelmingly against Trump, so we can likely "afford" to maintain our lockdown assuming the metric being measured is strictly political. That isn't so in all the other states we need to oust the bastard.

David Brin said...

Has anyone else see confirmation of this? The condition known as “COVID toes” — mysterious blue or red discoloration in toes and sometimes fingers. It seems to only affect young people. If this were April 1 I'd be so suspicious. I am, anyway.

Alfred Differ said...

I have seen talk of people suffering a relatively low O2 saturation level without really realizing it.
Nothing official from journals, just chatter involving what we should be measuring about ourselves.

Don't know if it is connected, but I usually expect 'blue' to line up with low O2 saturation.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I have seen talk of people suffering a relatively low O2 saturation level without really realizing it.

Yes, a New York nurse had an op-ed about that in the NY Times a few days ago. She says it has something to do with the individual sacs within the lungs being incapacitated from processing oxygen, even though the lungs are still feeling normal. She said blood oxygen level can drop as low as 50 (normal being 94) with the victim not realizing anything is wrong.

It's a problem because by the time you realize you're sick, you're so sick as to need intubation, and often die. She suggested that people use home oxygen meters (which used to be cheap and easy to find, although now they're like toilet paper) in order to seek treatment before they get that bad.

Alfred Differ said...

I've had my O2 sat level drop to 60% occasionally when I was undiagnosed with sleep apnea. There ARE observable symptoms. The heart races. Circulation to the extremities shuts down. Kidney function plummets, which isn't directly observable, but when it returns you feel like you REALLY gotta go... and can't because it's just the internal equivalent of the pins-and-needles effect when circulation returns to your hands or feet.

Problem is when the O2 level is that low, you can't think clearly either. If you don't have a loved one around watching, you are toast.

I've been admitted to a hospital twice. Had to bring in my own CPAP each time because they are personalized with pressure settings we generally aren't told. Nurses didn't like the idea of me using personal equipment, so I let them try with their own once... and only once. They got to see what happened when I didn't REM sleep properly and gave in.

Adding O2 is pretty easy. Just tap the hose between the pump and mask and connect to an O2 source. Easy peasy.

A lot of these pumps being sold today are actually APAP's. The pressure adjusts a bit with the patient's needs. All fancy, computerized, and quieter than the ones from years ago.

Lorraine said...

I had itchy toes couple of weeks ending maybe a week ago, but I'm far from young. Assumed it was chilblains or something.

George Carty said...

Dr Brin:

In 1946 George Marshall, Acheson and the others knew we were about to be an empire and that all other empires made terrible mistakes. Fir the 1st time, they asked "how can we do it better?" And the #1 answer was "don't rob the periphery in favor of the center." ALL other Pax empires did that, raising resentment that became lethal.

I'm not sure that was true of the Russian empire (in either tsarist or Soviet form): wasn't it less about economic exploitation and more about building buffers to protect their otherwise-indefensible Muscovite homeland from attack? If anything the Russians primarily exploited their own heartland, both to fund their military defenses and to build up Siberia as a redoubt in case their European territories were overrun.

TCB said...

Re: Dr. Brin's comment on Belt and Road:

International Business Times, India Edition: Only a drunkard would accept these terms: Tanzania President cancels 'killer Chinese loan' worth $10 bn

Tanzania President John Magufuli has cancelled a Chinese loan worth $10 billion signed by his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete to construct a port at Mbegani creek in Bagamoyo over terms and conditions that, he said, beat the logic. Magufuli said that the terms of the Chinese loan agreement could only be accepted by a drunken man.


Recently, the Kenyan government had also raised the issue that China was planning to take over one of the country's key seaports after the African country failed to clear its debts. Bejing also got Sri Lanka's Hambantota port on the lease after the island nation failed to clear part of a massive loan.

TCB said...

@Alfred Differ, there's a suspicion that the COVID interferes with the blood's ability to absorb that O2, which may be why ventilators don't always help.

Keith Halperin said...

@TCB & Everybody: I wonder if the Chinese Government, aka Communist Party PRC, aka China, Inc. has studied the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état (,
the 1953 Iranian coup d'état (, and the 2016 American coup d'état aka, Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections( Assuming they have, they should be careful- in the second case: "payback's a bitch" and in the last case: the final result is unclear....

Stay Well and
Shǐ zhōngdōng wángguó zàicì wěidà
Make the Middle Kingdom great again!

David Brin said...

George C, While the Russian Empire certainly was 90% about axpanding buffers to protect the buffers, most of the satrapies weren't "exploited" because there was nothing to exploit. Not true of Poland, Estonia, etc and Ukraine, who were exploited and impoverished and who want no further part of Russian "spheres of influence."

Putin rants openly about having been promised those spheres in the 90s, only to have hated Clinton/Obama/Soros betray and steal them away. No mention of the wishes of the inhabitants of those lands.

David Brin said...

Keith in all three of those examples, the meddling power took advantage of massive LOCAL dissent. In 53 & 54 cases it was the nation's military and landowners and anyone fearing communists. In the case of 2016 it was US oligarchs, wallstreeters, K-Street parasites, varied mafias and a huge swathe of Fox-riled confederates.

There may be such interests and simmering forces in China today, but I doubt anyone has a handle on that and setting sparks there could be very dangerous.

Smurphs said...

George C. said:

"Russian empire (in either tsarist or Soviet form): wasn't it less about economic exploitation and more about building buffers to protect their otherwise-indefensible Muscovite homeland from attack? "

I have been hearing this said my entire life, over 60 years now. While I am sure there is some truth, it has ALWAYS sounded like typical justification for greed and the desire for conquest.

Rationalizing bad behavior as necessary is something humans are really good at.

Deuxglass said...

I knew it would happen if I lived long enough and it just did. A serious study by a serious medical research institution, the Institut Pasteur has announced that they are studying nicotine as a possible treatment against the Covid-19 virus. It came about because they had noticed that a very low portion of those admitted to the hospitals were smokers. It indicates that current smoking appears to be a protective factor against the virus. This is very counter-intuitive yet that is what has been observed. It seems that the epidemiological data is saying that smoking tobacco decreases the risk of infection by 75%! I found that hard to believe but one of the scientist who did the study said on main TV this morning in front of my eyes and ears. The SARS-CoV-2 enters into the cell using the ACE2 molecule on the cell’s surface. Nicotine sticks to the same molecule and if it is stuck there before the virus gets to it then the poor virus has no way to get into the cell and take it over. Now he didn’t say go out and buy a pack of cigarettes but he did say that the nicotine patch might be a good way to get this lovely nicotine into your system. A couple of hours later the government announced that the selling of nicotine patches has been banned (I kid you not) I suppose to keep people from abusing patches although some misguided souls claim that it is to save the supply for “essential people” such as politicians, CEOs, sports stars, wealthy donors to the right party and incidentally health workers. Fortunately the best way to deliver this miracle drug quickly to the lungs is to smoke tobacco. Wonders never cease. As a former smoker I am tempted. For those who doubt what I said I provide these links, one to a Bloomberg article from today and the other to the original study in English.

P.S. The French armed forces spokesman confirmed that they had made a very large order of injectable chloroquine as a precaution. Over here there is a violent public discussion among experts on its merits. I won’t go into the arguments but I will say that doctors here and in many countries in Europe when they catch the virus treat themselves with the cocktail and they say it. I also know that the same thing is happening in New York. When they get sick they take it.

reason said...

Lorrain re red toes - I had sonething similar, which I also think was chillblanes, which I don't remember having fir decades. But I know wherr it comes from. I'm working from home and hone office is cold (north side of the house in Germany). I put on extra pair of socks to walm my freezing feet, and then took the dog out. My toes didn't appreciate it, bright red for a week.

matthew said...

Deuxglass, your statements regarding nicotine and COVID-19 are directly contradicted by reporting out of China, where men died at much higher rates than women due to the prevalence of male smoking.

The Chloroquine anecdotes you are spreading have been debunked as well.


Jon S. said...

Well, Deaux, according to a study of over 1000 Chinese patients, published in the New England Journal of Medicine*, smokers are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. A study from a laboratory in New York, posted to bioRxiv** but not yet peer-reviewed, suggests that this may be due to abnormally large numbers of ACE2 receptors in the lungs of smokers.

As for hydroxycholoroquine, a controlled study*** found that at least in Veteran's Administration hospitals, mortality rates for COVID-19 patients increased when that drug was administered. I think it's best saved for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients, whose immune systems need to be suppressed to treat those diseases.




Alfred Differ said...

wasn't it less about economic exploitation and more about building buffers

No. Quite a bit of both. The problem with defense of the Muscovy core is that control of the buffers is damn expensive. SO expensive the core becomes impoverished and must use secret police to manage dissent pretty much everywhere. The expense can be mitigated for a while by stealing from the buffers.

The Russian Empire is metastable. It can't afford the costs of suppressing risks on its borders, but must try. Ruthless internal suppression frees up some funds for border suppression and the Russian People are amazingly resilient with respect to the consequences. It doesn't last, though. History shows they cycle between boom and bust in their defense-in-depth strategy.

Alfred Differ said...


COVID interferes with the blood's ability to absorb that O2

Yah. Transfusion time for those who can tolerate it. Assuming they can get to medical help.

My wife wanted to donate blood the other day and worried that I thought she'd be taking too much risk. I reminded her I'm alive after my first hospitalization having received two transfusions. I'm ALL FOR people helping as they can and taking risks they find justifiable to do it. So... she did.

I was still anemic when I left the hospital that first time. Took over a year to get my RBC count up to a reasonable level. I got a chance to learn all the various ways that we lose them or fail to make enough of them. Got to learn how iron is preserved and re-used in the blood stream as a resource more precious than gold... and why too much will kill you. [It's astonishing what a billion years of evolution will invent.] I bought one of those O2 sat devices back then and used it regularly, but understood that it only measured saturation of the RBC's I actually had. Not quite enough data. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

I'll take my chances with the corona virus instead of the insecticide.
Just Say No to nicotine.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin and Everybody: Indeed- not America’s finest hours. I wonder when America (both the country and the meme) went from being “the Good Guy” to being “the Bad Guy”? An idea for an essay (but not by me): “Breaking Bad America: The United States as Walter White.” Do you think it was before the Iraq War? I also wonder how long and what it will take to restore our image in the world and at home. (I suspect before that happens, the “Slowpocalypse,” aka, “Climate Change” will render such concerns moot.) Still, we should continue to fight the good fight in whatever ways we can, and if “they” don’t like it:

Stay Well!

David Brin said...

Russia might have tried to build a consensus empire, where vast numbers at the periphery preferred the capital's rule over local feuds and oppressors. To a very large degree, that's how the British ran theirs, while showing the alternative - rebellion - would simply be crushed. In fact, to some degree Rome did that... and the greatest mistake of Athens was not to.

But the Russian personality forbade that approach. BTW I get very Rosso-study in my novella "The Logs" which I wrote to honor Gene Wolfe. It's in Insistence of Vision.

Alfred, you really have had a roller coaster of ups and downs. Glad you live today? Wish you lived in the 2070s?

Keith your story and title ideas sound terrific. The decline of the American Pax began with the Reagan era rejection of Rooseveltism based on incantations - spite toward civil servants, taxcut greed, Supply-Sie-ism, but also the notion that bluster is strength. It WORKED in some ways! Driving the USSR to bankruptcy and dissolution,

But next came the neocons - mad followers of Leo Strauss - demanding America stop shilly-shallying around a BE an empire. And when that collapsed into failure and messes, the right did what they always do... fell backward into tribalism and isolationism.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: History shows they cycle between boom and bust

Given such outcomes, and given the catastrophic cost of missing them (we are living through such a crisis now), I must posit that Krugman, Asimov, and Brin were right. Asimov's psychohistory is perhaps the most precious prize out there. I'm feeling better about the year I spent in 2011 studying computational psychohistory. The banal big data models popular at the time were what triggered me to dig deeper.

David Brin said...

Yipe, he just won't stop:
Aid offer to Greenland: The U.S. has agreed to provide the island, a semiautonomous Danish territory, with $12.1 million in economic support. The offer has received a divided reaction in Denmark, after President Trump expressed interest in buying Greenland last year."

At least he's aiming this second round at the ones who matter... not "Denmark" but the Greenlanders themselves. Because I months ago said that was how to do it? Bad me!

Deuxglass said...


First of all data from China is not been exactly accurate. Second of all the next time please don’t send me newspaper articles. Send me the research papers. Thirdly the FDA notice specifically said not to use it outside of the hospital. Doctors are using it in the hospitals for your information. Fourthly it is not the hydroxychloroquine alone. It is used with a specific antibiotic. Last of all I said that there are vigorous discussion here going on. The root of the discussion is that it has not gone through the full experimental procedure which is true. The opposing side say that if we do that then by the time we know if it works or not the epidemic will be over and too late to save those who could have been saved. Both sides are supported by reputable medical research professionals. Anecdotal evidence contrary to what many people believe often happens in the medical field simply for the reason that if a drug or combination of drugs has positive effects on the group taking the drug and those who are on the placebo are going under they will drop the trial and give it to everybody. It’s the humane thing to do. That is what the fight is about. Doctors here say openly that they use it. My daughter and her husband are doctors who are in close contact with their friends who are doctors on the front line in New York City. They use it. Are you implying that they are spreading rumors or are they just willing to do all they can to save lives, even using a cocktail that that has not gone through the whole trial period because there is no time. I would like to point out that no one has proved that parachutes work in a formal experiment using a control group. It has never been properly tested because they have a problem finding volunteers. The belief that parachutes work is purely anecdotal.

There is a lot of research into the area of finding ways to block the virus by using a drug that occupies the receptor on the cell. They tried a lot of drugs and a good one, apparently better than others so far, is nicotine. Since they understandably don't want to promote tobacco they are looking for variations that can do the same thing. Hopefully they will find something better that you can inhale that isn't cancerous.

David Brin said...

Alas, I believe it is no accident that the region supplying "papers" supporting the Chloroquine+antibiotic miracle cure is also the realm clinging relentlessly to belief that there is something to Homeopathy. No offense Deuxglass? Hey, I lived in France and love the place.

David Brin said...

Amazingly prescient ONION satire!

Deuxglass said...

Homeopathy? I don't know anybody who takes the stuff besides some herbal tea or whatever. They do believe that you are what you eat. They are careful what they put into their bodies.I am not sure if the average French person consumes more of it than the average Californian but I do know that the average French person has a longer life by a few years. Does that imply causation? That might be true or not but I am curious to find out if it is. I do know that there is very few anti-vaxers here as opposed to the United States. The French spend about 300 million Euros per year on Homeopathic products which is 3/4ths that of the US but in France a very important homeopathic product is not legally sold and that is medical marijuana which is legal in the States and generates 5.2 billion in sales annually. Is it no accident that a region that spends a lot of time stoned has a hard time judging the merits of Chloroquine+antibiotic therapy?

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Deuxglass
Look up Homeopathy - I think there is a misunderstanding going on

Homeopathic medicines are just water that has been magically activated

Herbal tea and medical marijuana are NOT "homeopathic"

Alfred Differ said...


Life in the 2070's will be full of messy details as it is today... just different ones. As long as progress is happening, there will always be a last generation to suffer malady X. I got chickenpox as a kid, but there is a vaccine now. I got Wegener's disease at 51 and should be the last urban generation to use cyclophosphamide to beat it... well... close anyway. Colon cancer caught at about stage 1.5... quite fixable... and people who pay attention to risks and have access to medical care should be able to delay that form of demise beyond the time horizon when some other thing gets them.

I'd still prefer to live today.
1. I got to see the Human Genome Project completed at a shocking pace.
2. I'm likely to be alive for both the first Moon landing and when we return. (Wasn't sure about that not long ago.)
3. I got to see the Cold War end without civilization ending with blossoming mushroom clouds. Pretty neat.
4. I got to see the population bomb fizzle because humanity has a circuit breaker of which we didn't know. Growth rate in 1962 when I was born was at the peak.
5. I got to see the Liberal Order unseat another of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Famine/Poverty has been unceremoniously dumped on its ass.

I can go on and on, but James Burke did it better in the final scene of the final episode of 'The Day the Universe Changed'. It's the scene with him holding a little microchip on his finger. Filmed in '85 I think. Doesn't mean much unless one groks the point he makes about our helical motion through the space we define for 'what is' and 'what can be'. It's profound, though. Brings me to tears each time.

Alfred Differ said...


I don't want to diss Asimov, but I'm firmly in the camp of people who firmly believe that something like psychohistory is inherently impossible. Not just computationally difficult. Theoretically impossible.

The problem is that to get a reasonable amount of determinacy in such a model, you have to make the humans into something other than humans. Even as members of a Feudal Order we are noisy critters that cause divergences from the model. There is good reason for it too since success means more offspring. The Feudal Order brings divergences back to the attractor, but not perfectly. The princes and priests stole most of the surplus, but couldn't organize well enough to get it all. In that failure, population grew and then complexity grew. Feudal weaknesses get exposed when complexity goes unsquashed.

No. I don't think there is enough determinism in human nature to make a psychohistorical model work without changing us into something else. Asimov solved that with Robots and Psi and made my point. The managed human population in the galaxy isn't human as far as I'm concerned. It's a close approximation.

Lift a human from Earth and put them in an alien zoo. Put a sign on the cage that says 'Human of Terra'. I'll argue that the sign is a lie. The thing in the cage is 'a human', but not 'Human'. We are social critters and that is source of much of our indeterminacy. One human removed from context isn't Human. Asimov's galactic civilization isn't Human either... not in any of the books.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ,

Asimov got psychohistory quite wrong at first (goofy ideal gas law). Over time, he worked and teased it, but then was cut down by a blood transfusion just at the dawn of supercomputing. My ruminations are based on two things: truly vast agent-based models (SF even by today's standards), and Bayesian Inference. Neither of these relies on 'determinism'. I thought our host did a good job with "Foundation's Triumph", especially when I read some of his later thoughts about competing AI (agents).

Re: Burke, Connections, and Day the Universe Changed. Totally agree. The real moment in that whole trail though was Jacob Bronowski (Ascent of Man) kneeling down at the edge of a disposal pond in Poland (I forget which camp), and quoting Cromwell's letter to the Church of Scotland, only intending it for the Nazis:

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken."

That quote is also the basis of Cromwell's Rule, a basic tenet of Bayesian methods.

Larry Hart said...

Keith Halperin:

I wonder when America (both the country and the meme) went from being “the Good Guy” to being “the Bad Guy”? ... I also wonder how long and what it will take to restore our image in the world and at home.

Well, The Foundation went from "the Good Guy" to "the Bad Guy"by the time of the hereditary Indburs, and restored their image after the defeat of The Mule.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I don't want to diss Asimov, but I'm firmly in the camp of people who firmly believe that something like psychohistory is inherently impossible. Not just computationally difficult. Theoretically impossible.

Asimov described psychohistory operating in a Galactic Empire comprising a quintillion human beings. The ten billion we just might reach here on earth is orders of magnitude too small for the axioms to apply. Applying psychohistory to the population of one planet is more like trying to apply it to a single individual than it is to the population Hari Seldon had to work with.

That said, I think that with a large enough population and knowledge base, a science of prediction of the large sweep of history might be possible in the same way that weather forecasts are. A science that allows one to direct the future would be more akin to weather control, which is way, Way, WAY more complex than weather prediction.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Have you read the Donald Kingsbury "version" - Psychohistorical Crisis ?

It's a glorious much much more chaotic version

David Brin said...

"think it possible that you may be mistaken." happens to be the sacred catechism of science.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Blogger duncan cairncross said...
Homeopathic medicines are just water that has been magically activated

That is result of thorough thwarting by mainstream medicine.
Which is based on Allopathy. ;P
Do you know the difference?

Blogger David Brin said...
Russia might have tried to build a consensus empire, where vast numbers at the periphery preferred the capital's rule over local feuds and oppressors. To a very large degree, that's how the British ran theirs, while showing the alternative - rebellion - would simply be crushed. In fact, to some degree Rome did that... and the greatest mistake of Athens was not to.

Yet again.
Three stepping stones of an empire:
1. Inclusion of foreign elite as your own.
2. Rule of law (more like Rule of Fist, but more consistent) to conqured.
3. Major life-threatening even as a trigger for outer expansion.
Rome -- Punic War.
Brits -- Traffalgar.
Japan -- their Cami Caze.
And Etc.

reason said...

Forgive the typos - smartphone and I switched off autocorrect because it made it worse.

Larry Hart said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

Have you read the Donald Kingsbury "version" - Psychohistorical Crisis ?

It's a glorious much much more chaotic version

I did, and I enjoyed the book for what it was.

I thought it was weird that they knew all about the history of Earth, though. Considering that in the Foundation novels, that knowledge had been long lost to antiquity.

I think I enjoy the original Foundation novels in a way that differs from most here, including our host. I like the sort of action-adventure sci-fi that Asimov wrote in the 40s and 50s, and I'm willing to take the human-populated galaxy as an analogue for a human-populated planet, and the existence of the science of psychohistory as the premise of the series--a launching point for stories to be told within that context. I never felt the need to explain the history of how that world followed from our own, and I wish Asimov and others (sorry, Dr Brin) hadn't turned that explanatory backstory into the whole point of the series.

Deuxglass said...


The dictionary define homeopathy as “a system of treating diseases in which sick people are given very small amounts of natural substances that, in healthy people, would produce the same effects as the diseases produce”. I see no mention of magically activated water. I get what you mean but you gave me an opinion and not a definition.

I was responding to Dr. Brin comment where he implied that since the French are big in homeopathy that that somehow disqualifies them from being able to seriously evaluate the merits or not of using the Chloroquine and antibiotic cocktail. He further went to say that he loves the French which is incredibly condescending. I guess he likes the food and wine but when it comes to medical science he can’t take them seriously but medical researchers around the world do take them seriously since they produce a high number of recognized experts in reputable research facilities. The French spend less than one-half of one percent of their medical expenses on homeopathic medicines which strangely enough roughly corresponds to what Americans spend on medical marijuana. Now I suppose that supporters of medical marijuana would not put them in the same category but I notice that both Homeopathy and medical marijuana claim their respective products produce the same beneficial effects notably pain relief, relaxation, mood enhancement and better sleep. Marijuana growers have bred strains of marijuana without THC but it seems consumers are not very enthusiastic and prefer the real thing and are willing to suffer the euphoric effects in order to get the medical benefits.

When it comes to the Covid-19 treatment I don’t know if the cocktail works or not and you don’t know that either. What I can say is that it is used by more and more doctors and hospitals not only in Europe but in the US as well. Dr. Didier Raoult is one of the most credible researchers of infectious diseases in the world. If you don’t believe me just look him up. Some other high-ranking sources have a different opinion and some other support him but most are vague about it. I find that one rarely sees the top ten researchers in infectious diseases on TV. They are too busy for that. What you get are a lot of second and third stringers. When I see a medical expert on TV I look up his rankings in his field in Expertscape or another reputable site. More often than I like I find out that he is way down the list or that he is talking about something that is not even in his specialty. Myself I take the top twenty experts and read what they say and publish and I ignore the white noise from the media. It keeps me focused.

Tim H. said...

Lately, when I think about homeopathy at all, I wonder how would one even find water that hadn't been involved in a mind buggeringly staggering number of life forms in the last couple billion years? Want to sell homeopathic essence of velociraptor? Chances are, a few molecules in any random liter of water encountered saurian kidneys in the deep past. Note, I don't think about this when drinking water, Terra has an excellent recycling system... ;)

Jon S. said...

"When it comes to the Covid-19 treatment I don’t know if the cocktail works or not and you don’t know that either."

But we do know, Deaux. It was tried in a large study in VA hospitals in the US.

It doesn't work. Worse, it increases mortality - more people die with this "cocktail" than without it.

Of course, that's pretty easily predictable by the fact that while hydroxycholorquine is an antiviral in vitro, when used in vivo one of its functions is to suppress the activity of the human immune system. (This is why it's specific against systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are autoimmune disorders.) And using an antibiotic against a virus is pretty silly just on the face of it.

Look, I know there's probably some national pride involved here, but I gave you links to papers on the topics involved here. So far as I can tell, you've ignored them in favor of just arguing with people, which is not how science is conducted.

Oh, and I looked up information on Dr. Didier Raoult. He was widely cited early in his career, yes - but since being appointed the head of Unité de Recherche sur les Maladies Infectieuses et Tropicales Emergentes, there have been considerable controversies regarding his conduct of business, including multiple charges of sexual harassment and fudging data. In 2008, he and four co-authors were banned from publishing in journals from the American Society of Microbiology, after it was found that two images in a submitted paper were identical to images from a previous paper that supposedly were from an entirely different experiment. He also seems to be a great believer in the use of mathematical models - except when said models disagree with his own beliefs, in which case they're little better than witchcraft (the basis from which he argues that anthropogenic climate change isn't real). In short, while Appeal To Authority is not really a valid rhetorical technique, I'd be especially reluctant to employ it in this particular case.

David Brin said...

Jon S very interesting data dump. Though in fairness they say Chloroquine suppresses the virus enough that the antibiotic can then quash the opportunistic bacterial infection that is killing people. That story though is... weird. The people who catch a virus from airborne aerosols ALSO just happen to take in a bacterium that opportunistically synergizes with the virus? On such a massive scale that it's the principle covid cause of death? And yet no autopsies have found pervasive bacterial action?

That is a transmission-infection trail of truly dubious plausibility.

Alfred Differ said...


The dim view expressed here about Homeopathy wasn't mine, but I will admit to sharing most of it. The 'magical water' notion comes from our perspective on the practitioners. Water is used to dilute the active ingredient. From our perspective, it is snake oil being sold as medicine and triggers a strong defensive reaction to a perceived con.

My personal view goes beyond the usual 'water therapy woo' reaction, though. I get how small amounts of an active ingredient can produce immune responses. That's the whole point of a vaccine. I get the belief system that natural ingredients might still prove useful, but I'm deeply wary because science rarely says anything nicer than 'no harm is done at that dose level'. What I cringe at is claims that agent X boosts the immune system and that it is a good thing.

1. The immune system is a learning system. See it once, know it always. That's the point. It isn't 'boosted'. It is taught to detect agent X.

2. The immune system makes mistakes that are @#$@ing lethal. In late June of 2013 I came down with something nasty (influenza-like) that knocked me on my butt. By early July I was feeling better. By early August I was feeling worse. My joints were swelling and the pain was excruciating. By early September I was coughing and pissing blood. My primary doctor gave up and sent me to the ER and then I was admitted. Turns out my immune system had learned a lesson that convinced it the inner lining of my smaller blood vessels was Agent X and it had ramped up to kill it. My kidneys and lungs were perforated by my own immune system.

My case is just one of many types of mistakes our immune systems make. My sister is dying of a different auto-immune disorder with no known cure. There are an awful lot of awful ways to die... by our own immune systems. So... imagine how cringe-worthy I think many homeopathy claims are when they suggest it is a good thing to cause your immune system to react.

Yah. Our immune systems need to be triggered at times so they have something useful to do. There are good reasons to suspect that many auto-immune disorders are unintentionally created by us living in an environment that is too clean with immune systems evolved for worse. I buy some of that, but not all of it. The vast majority of human generations avoided living in their own filth, but couldn't necessarily avoid some of the parasites. So... mixed bag.

Mostly, I react strongly when people make claims that I'm fairly sure can't be backed up by science. Medicate yourself as you wish is what I'll usually suggest, but I flip to the other side when people suggest others imitate them. Be the example, not the preacher. (not that you are preaching) It's a fine line to walk, though. Most easily done by showing the science being done.

Alfred Differ said...

scidata & Larry,

When I was first learning economics, I noticed most of the problems analyzed were essentially 'just' linear algebra problems. Huge ones, but relatively simple to describe. Realistic problems weren't necessarily linear, but with the continuity assumptions the scholars made, they were linear enough on a small N-ball around a point of interest.

On learning that, I jumped to the belief that one could theoretically solve the optimization problems, though they might be computationally impractical. P vs NP kind of stuff. Given a problem with a million variables (dimensions), a metric, and a measure of fitness, one could eventually find a solution even if it took longer than the universe will exist. That's the type of problem I thought economists faced. Theoretically possible, practically impossible without oversimplifications and heuristics.

Then I read Hayek and Popper and that house of cards collapsed. No. Not just impractical. There was a flaw in my thinking. The fitness function didn't exist because a system of N agents was less and less likely agree on one function as N grows larger. Small systems on the order of a human family or band are about as big as they get where all participants can agree on how to economize resources. That's the fitness function. In bigger groups, we don't agree. Without the fitness function, there is no optimization problem except the small, local one where your band optimizes as best it can in a context where you CAN'T know with precision what resources will be available.

We call this smaller kind of problem a market problem. They look like linear algebra problems too, but without the universal scope. The fitness function is local and might adjust suddenly under external forces. The number of dimensions is smaller too, but the problem is still in the vast space with a bazillion dimensions that are mostly unknown unknowns.

Psychohistory was imagined first as an ideal gas kind of thing. Good for story telling, but like Star Trek stories, the fans will explore the implications. Behind 'ideal gas' is thermodynamics and then statistical mechanics. Wonderfully imaginative theories. Thermo is A LOT like what is taught in microeconomics classes. Assume the state function and independent variables. Take a derivative to get partial derivatives with respect to those variables. Those are the 'margin of' characters taught in econ. Follow it further, though, and we see the optimization problems as huge linear algebra problems. Ideal gases just offer up aggregates that hide the micro in the macro.

The thing with thermodynamics is we can talk of things like 'engine efficiency' and 'entropy'. They are defined even in problem spaces with a bazillion dimensions. That is NOT the case for humans making resource decisions, though. 'No fitness function' is the thermodynamic equivalent of being unable to define 'efficiency' or 'entropy'.

Most people haven't read Hayek and Popper well enough to realize that the problem they want to solve doesn't exist. Even a god-like mind would fail to solve it… because the problem isn't definable. Might as well try to answer "What's the difference between a duck?" or the millions of other crazy questions kids ask.

'No fitness function' is an astonishing discovery that few realize DID occur last century. People try to get around it by imposing one from outside, but that is an entirely different kind of problem. GOD SAYS we should optimize this or that way. Hmpf. Do it that way and we lose our humanity.

David Brin said...

Alfred, boy have you had a rough ride. Blessings to your sister.

In Heart of the Comet, one of the doctor’s top jobs was to release “challenge pathogens”… mild colds that would provoke the astronauts’ immune reactions in predictable ways.

Yes, there is no simple governance solution for large groups, but there is a fitness matching strategy that may convince all or most sub-groups it is better to stay by the campfire and keep negotiating. Get everyone to make a list of their priorities, including things that others want and you want to prevent. Prioritize them.

Now find out how many groups have a top priority whose prevention is a LOWER priority to opponents. See if you can find enough of these symmetric situations where a lot of constituencies can get their top wishes while grudgingly stepping aside to let adversaries get theirs.

Use this process to break up obstinate blocs by offering what 60% want, even if 30% stomp off, in rage.


scidata said...

I used to converse with a Canadian physicist who was a real Popper fan. Wicked smaat as they say in Beantown. Functions are dead, long live the algorithm. I never gave up on fitness functions, determinism, or system optimization because I never embraced them to begin with (too dumb, not well enough educated). Formulae are not natural. It's not nice to anthropomorphize Mother Nature. Ask Planck, Darwin, or Wolfram. BTW on Wolfram, if you want to see what RL Math-is-the-Language-of-God Kuhn looks like when he swallows a fork, watch this interview with Stephen Math-is-an-artifact-of-human-history Wolfram.

Acacia H. said...

As an aside, from someone who had this wretched horrible virus, there are long-term effects.

I went for a walk last night with my flatmate. The area I live in has a nice hill between me and the coast, and it's fairly steep in places. But I'm used to it and can walk it without problem. Or... I used to be able to walk it without problems.

I was in pain last night after walking partway up the hill. Both lungs ACHED. And after I got home and eventually went to bed I noticed that my lungs felt bubbly again.

In all likelihood I lost lung capacity. I've probably been breathing from the upper half of my lungs and never noticed it. It took walking up a steep hill for what's in the bottom of the lungs to start breaking up and all I can think of is this is probably what walking pneumonia feels like.

Needless to say, I'll be walking up that hill again, either tonight or tomorrow. And I'm going to walk up that hill as many nights as it takes until I no longer feel pain in my chest walking up that hill. Because this old girl isn't going to let this permanently hurt me. And if it does? I'll adjust anyway.


duncan cairncross said...

Hi guys
Homeopathy consists of dilutions so great that there is a vanishingly small chance of their being a SINGLE molecule of the "medicine" in a bottle

A single "dilution" (C) is one part in a hundred - by 12C there is about a 60% chance of their being a single molecule of the "medicine" in a dose

Most "formulations" are 30C - ""this is the Dilution advocated by Hahnemann for most purposes: on average, this would require giving two billion doses per second to six billion people for 4 billion years to deliver a single molecule of the original material to any patient.""

Homeopathic medicines are just WATER!!!! (or sometimes alcohol)

I have no problems with the idea that small doses of medicine can trigger a reaction

I do have a problem with the idea that ZERO doses can trigger a reaction

Despite this - scientists HAVE tested homeopathic medicines as found no effect

Anonymous asked did I know the difference between Homeopathy and "Allopathy"

There are two differences - one of which is old fashioned and no longer universal - modern medicine STARTED out by treating the symptoms - and is moving towards treating the causes

The other one is that "Allopathy" actually involves real life chemicals and not water that was "exposed" to a chemical and has NONE of the chemical

Larry Hart said...

@Alfred Differ, re: psychohistory,

I'm not really arguing that psychohistory is an achievable science any time in the immediate future. I'm saying that the concept is plausible enough to be an acceptable premise for a series of sci-fi/adventure stories. Surely, you can read something like Kafka's Metamorphosis for what it is without insisting the author explain the mechanism by which Gregor was transmogrified into a giant bug.

I'll go a bit futher, though, and assert that you are claiming weather forecasting to be impossible,given the number of independent variables involved. And while that science is fallible, it is accurate enough to be useful--for example, predicting the unprecedented formation of super-storm Sandy even before it happened. Weatherman Tom Skilling couldn't have told me in December that today would be cold and rainy in Chicago, but he could (and did) tell me that the spring months would tend warmer than normal in Chicago this year, which despite today's cold has been generally true. If you're looking for a socio-economic model that can do an analogue of the former, then you're bound to be disappointed, while I can buy a socio-economic model that can do something like the latter.

Recall the bit in Foundation and Empire where it is made clear (after the fact) that General Bel Riose was bound to fall, not because any science predicted the specific results of his or the Emperor's specific actions, but rather because all scenarios from a certain point forward led to the same conclusion. A weak emperor invites a coup rather than an expansionist campaign against foreigners; a weak general can't threaten his neighbors; only a strong emperor and a strong general is a threat to the outer planets--but a strong emperor will be jealous of the popularity of his strong general and imagine plots against his throne until he himself undoes the general. That's how psychohisotory "works", just as that's how it successfully predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire.

Alfred Differ said...


The best fitness matching strategy I know involves market competition, but I don't have to tell you that. Fair, flat, free, and all that. 8)

I don't worry so much about openly listing my priorities for others to see. They can see most of them in the prices I'm willing to pay for a resource basket. I'll buy TP at a steady pace when the prices are typical and switch to conserving or even selling when the prices go too high. So cleanliness is a lower priority for me than others? Nah. I'm just more willing to use substitutes. 8)

As a manufacturer, though, I want those priorities from my customers. I can get them with market research well enough. Ask them and watch them and get a decent approximation. Also watch what the other competitors are doing. They might know things.

As for intentional releases of pathogens, I remember that aspect of your book. I was irritated about it at first. Made more sense later after I gave the idea a chance. What irritated was my understanding that doing so in a large population WILL kill with the odds going up with population size.

It's the trolley problem and its variations, though. How many do you risk killing to save all the others? Heh. That's what I'm trying to tell some people about the current pandemic. How many do YOU (pointing at them) want to kill to act the way YOU (using both hands to point now) want to act? The answer isn't the point. Thinking about it is. That's why I use personal anecdotes that get graphic at times. Helps focus the mind. 8)

David Brin said...

Acacia blessings upon you.

Alfred Differ said...


I have seven books by Popper and a couple more about him, fourteen books with Hayek's material and a couple more about him, and a bunch more on economics and the liberal order all because our host said something in a blog post many years ago.

Don't place blind faith in markets. Same for guided allocation of resources. FIBM vs GAR should really be FIBM & GAR. Both dangerous.

Our host wrote what I now know to be a standard cut-n-paste thing about how none of it works. Never in all of history! Show me even one example! Heh. I paraphrased our host elsewhere and someone else I respected pointed toward Hayek. Ten years later I had a very different outlook on economic theory and a bookshelf with many competing ideas represented. It's been a blast.

Alfred Differ said...


Good luck. That pain shows where the problem is.

If it helps any, try to avoid too much elevation gain. I made the mistake of retreating to a nice pretty So Cal lake after my first hospital visit. Turns out being 2km above sea level and being anemic aren't a good mix. Lower lung capacity will produce the same impact. It was one of those D'oh! moments for me and I did the rest of my recovery therapy near sea level. Funny after it was all over. 8)

If hills aren't available, speeding up the walk will ramp up O2 demand. Painful, but all physical therapy is it seems.

David Brin said...

Re homeopathy. The worst thing is how it often falls out logically. The doctrine is that the effectiveness of a homeopathic treatment increses, the more times it is diluted. That is weird to start with. But I once followed a case in which a strongly allergic person was killed by a homeopathic concoction incoporating the allergen. And at one point a person involved said:

"I don't understand what went wrong. We used a very WEAK version! We only diluted it twice!

Ponder that. Oh, I am sure that some folks in that community would call that anecdotal event a bastardized version and a stupid misuse. Still...

David Brin said...