Wednesday, February 03, 2021

That "Proxima Candidate" for a 2019 "SETI hit"? What's up with that?

Yes it would be highly pertinent to continue "political postings," given the ongoing all-out efforts to demolish our Great Enlightenment Experiment in equality, democracy, justice, accountability and the rule-of-law. And I'll be weighing in - as you'd expect - with a series of 'judo proposals' or actions and methods that could strengthen our experiment, while playing to the enemy's weaknesses, not their strengths.

Indeed, I will follow up this science missive with a few items that can't wait!  Like what to do when you see a pack of cars in front of a neighbor's raucous, carelessly super-spreader-bowl party.

But let's get to the matter at hand. That "Proxima Event" you've been hearing about?  Could it be our first scientifically credible sign of LGM... Little Green Men... or anything technological but non human, out there? 

= Preliminary thoughts on The “Proxima Signal”


Okay it’s an apropos topic for commencing a new year, a new decade… and you’ll see just how apropos, at the end. By now many of you have read or heard about the “Proxima Signal”-- which is at least a ‘candidate’ for a Technosignature of alien origin. I was told about this a while back, by some of the Breakthrough guys... and now it’s in the media, leading to many messages and queries. Hence I feel behooved to offer my own take on a potential radio ‘contact’ from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our solar system.


Here’s how Scientific American opens a report on the topicIt’s never aliens—until it is. Today news leaked in the British newspaper the Guardian of a mysterious signal coming from the closest star to our own, Proxima Centauri, a star too dim to see from Earth with the naked eye that is nonetheless a cosmic stone’s throw away at just 4.2 light-years. Found this autumn in archival data gathered last year, the signal appears to emanate from the direction of our neighboring star and cannot yet be dismissed as Earth-based interference, raising the very faint prospect that it is a transmission from some form of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI)—a so-called “techno-signature.”


         == Okay, so what do we know? == 


First off, the Parkes radio telescope in Australia is one of only a few in the Southern Hemisphere large enough to deep-study the Alpha Centauri triple star system (which was also inspiration for Liu Cixin’s epic novel The Three Body Problem.) Those controlling the telescope at the time were members of the UC Berkeley-based Breakthrough Initiative,funded by philanthropist Yuri Milner. Indeed, the team soon began calling this particular data-set - or signal - by a formal name: BLC1, for “Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1.”


Some of what I relate here came from conversations with friends who are members of that team, plus press reports, e.g.'The narrow beam of radio waves was picked up during 30 hours of observations by the Parkes telescope in Australia in April and May last year (2019)... Analysis of the beam has been under way for some time and scientists have yet to identify a terrestrial culprit such as ground-based equipment or a passing satellite.'


The actual event in question occurred while the Parkes dish was taking in data about solar activity by Proxima itself, a class M5 red dwarf star of the UV Ceti type that is extremely flare-active, like most of its kind. And note that a large majority of stars are small red dwarfs.


Much in the news a few years ago was discovery of planets in the Proxima system. The first, dubbed Proxima b upon its discovery in 2016, is about 1.2 times the size of Earth and in an 11-day orbit. It calculates as a “Goldilocks world” orbiting Proxima, one that’s nominally in the small star’s ‘habitable zone,’ (a distance that theoretically would allow temperatures permitting water to be liquid on it’s surface.) But any planet orbiting an M star in that range would also be near enough to get tidal-locked, so one side would bear continuous brunt of those flares, while the other, perpetually dark, side goes cold-as-ice.  Kinda rough on any life or civilization prospects, though there are sci fi scenarios… 


The Parkes machine has a telescope half power beamwidth of 20 arcminutes, by some measures six arcminutes, encompassing about the diameter of the moon, as seen from Earth. The means the sensitive area would include scores of stars behind Proxima but still relatively nearby, plus thousands that are farther away.  There are tricks to get much narrower resolution, but the 2019 survey of Proxima was all about getting data about that small, red star’s savage flare activity, and recording lots of that data for later analysis, not necessarily to search for SETI hits. This will turn out to be important.


During this observing run, apparently the telescope automatically and at random times ‘nodded’ or shifted away from Proxima briefly, a standard precaution to ensure that any data stored was actually coming from the target system. When the stored data was later analyze - and attention turned to the 2.5 hour anomaly - the Breakthrough folks first checked to make sure that nodding apparently made the surge go away, before the telescope’s attention aimed back at Proxima, restoring the signal. 

That’s basic, proper procedure to eliminate most possible non-astronomical (human activity-sourced) causes. But how systematic the off-axis checks were, I don’t yet know. Meticulous, I hope, nodding in different directions, by different amounts. But perhaps not, since it was all automatic, at the time.  In fact, if the off-axis 'nodding' happened on a timed-scheduled basis and not by human direction, it therefore could have been predictable to a very good spoofer, who might even have been able to tell when the control program ordered an off-axis 'nod," automatically shutting off the spoof signal at that point.  That's how I'd do it. (More on the spoof possibility, later.)


Alas, as far as I can tell, no alert was generated, or sent to other observatories, asking them to swing over and verify. So all we have is the Parkes recorded data. 


== About the 'signal' itself ==

Mind you the 'signal' - while very powerful and very long -- about 2.5 hours – appeared to be unmodulated. Says Breakthrough List Chief Scientist Andrew Siemion: “BLC1 is, for all intents and purposes, just a tone, just one note. It has absolutely no additional features that we can discern at this point.” Which means there's no 'message' ... at least as decipherable so far. Though see below for a reason why this may be “our fault.”

For perspective, while much higher than background, and lasting 2.5 hours, the signal was about one ten-thousandth the power imputed to the so-called WOW! detection of the 1970s.


But the trait of this detection that truly stands out is that it appears to have been monochromatic, or very narrow in its 982.002 Mhz spectrum. That – to me – is the most-striking thing. Plus the fact that this narrow spike also had a very slight frequency drift, roughly commensurate with a Doppler shift arising from some kind of motion by the source with respect to Earth

If that doppler shift had been due to the Earth's own motion with respect to Proxims, then “We would expect the signal to be going down in frequency like a trombone,” said one BL member. “What we see instead is like a slide whistle—the frequency goes up.”  Hence, the effect doesn’t seem be due to the motion of our planet -- the upward frequency drift is the reverse of what one would naively expect for that. But something like it might arise from a moving extraterrestrial source such as a transmitter on the surface of one of Proxima Centauri’s worlds.


But again, the top interesting trait is that the ‘signal’ is monochromatic, since that is consistent with the radio surge being a narrow beam – either focused by a huge dish or else created as a maser/laser (see below) in order to travel through space as a pencil-thin column, rather than an isotropically radiated broadcast that diminishes by inverse square of the distance traveled. Focused or lasered beams can survive vast interstellar distances, therefore, tens of thousands or tens of millions or time better than something that's radiated isotropically, in all directions. Such narrow beams could arise either naturally or artificially… though as we’ll see below, we’re entering territory that may favor the latter.

Oh, recall how I mentioned that, when Breakthrough researchers later mined the stored data for analysis, they found no modulation of the microwave surge, and hence no sign of anything like a ‘signal’ or ‘message’? Well there’s a technical flaw preventing much in the way of conclusions to be drawn from this, since the Parkes scope was taking in data with a 
17 second integration time… which seems odd, given that Parkes is so big and Proxima so near. But then, I haven’t done radio astronomy since 1970, so I’ll not criticize. Except to say that such integration time could have smeared away almost any modulation that was originally in the beam.


== So what’s going on? ==

We’ve been through drills like this before (and note that I co-wrote the "SETI Protocols) and it was never ‘aliens.’ If the past is any guide, more likely it was either:


1. Human-tech interference – although there are no satellite or defense or commercial activities known to be radiating in that band, literature searches have found one or two human-techs that resonate at that 982.002Mhz frequency, including a particular air traffic control system used in some parts of the world… but not at any airport near Parkes. Another obscure appearance of that frequency has to do with particular types of doped fiber optics. Attention is zooming on those possibilities. 


2. There were no known human-made space probes of satellites that might explain this. Regular satellites would have passed by in minutes, not lingering in front of Proxima for several hours. More distant probes are all accounted for. There is one special kind of satellite orbit called “Molniya” that was used extensively by the Soviets, that just might have been loitering far enough away and far enough south to linger in the Parkes window long enough. But no Molniyas (to our knowledge ) have ever been sent to high southern latitudes. 


3.  Noteworthy: 982 MHz is pretty much in the “water hole” which allows low-loss communications in interstellar space, which is a small nudge toward the “aliens!” camp, though a very small one.


4. A natural coherent (narrowly collimated) source. Such things exist! MASERs (microwave lasers) have been detected before in stellar atmospheres and even the Martian atmosphere! They result from population inversions of excited mediums... though we know of none that would have any of the observed traits of BLC1.

Generally, unless it's something exotic, you need some suitable energy level structure in order to get a laser or a maser, and in nature, these energy structures are pretty orderly, with most of them well-mapped already. Here is a compilation of maser frequencies that can be produced ‘naturally’ by elements that might occur in a stellar atmosphere or intervening molecular cloud. It is an old list but most such potential natural masers were pretty well known by then.  And notably there’s nothing at 980 megahertz. 

5. Artificial masers face no such limitations! Make the right kind of cavity resonators – maybe focused further by a huge dish -- and your civilization can tune a discrete, narrow, powerfully coherent beam to almost any frequency. And hence, if the source of this ‘signal’ is truly shown to be a collimated maser, then chalk one on the ‘aliens’ side of the ledger. (And I posit an even weirder kind of energy-level-driven 'laser" - using gravity waves - in EARTH!)


So yes, the monochromatic trait suggests the source could possibly be an artificial coherent source, perhaps aimed at us for communication... or else perhaps a propulsion beam that’s driving a sail, propelling something... well... exactly toward us. (See this portrayed in my novel EXISTENCE which is all about this very possibility. Watch the vivid 3-minute video trailer!) 


6. Or else it could be a very strong non-coherent source, likely natural and pretty enormous. Though you’d still need some kind of intervening filter effect to get the arriving signal so monochromatic.

7. A deliberate hoax. This possibility is favored by science fiction author Charles Stross. "Hackers prank radio astronomers by injecting fake signal into the datastream. (It's been overdue for ages and probably all it takes is a former grad student with a grudge against their professor. I mean, most lab/observatory IT infrastructure isn't exactly secured to defense department spec, and look at the ongoing fallout from the SolarWinds hack ...)"


Indeed, the possibility of a mistake or a stunt remains... though this event (it happened in 2019) certainly prompts curiosity. The off-axis checks – if done right – and the long 2.5 hour duration of the phenomenon argue against an object radiating at us in space, coincidentally near line of sight to Proxima, so it's not likely a hoax generated that way. But a software insertion to the data stream is something that can’t be ruled out. In fact, for years I have predicted that someone, some time, would fake some kind of SETI hit. Because… well… assholes.


Yes, the fact that this is year-old data that’s being mined adds to the hack scenario's plausibility, though such meddling should eventually be detectable. In fact, one of the slides in my standard "future talk" has been to predict that GPT-3 based AI emulators would soon be used to pull stunts – 


    - perhaps an emotional appeal by a pretend "slave AI," weeping and demanding our empathy (and cash), 


    - or else a faked alien "contact" (as portrayed in EXISTENCE.)    


8. And here's one that seems most likely after all. Instrumentation interference in the Parkes system itself.

It's happened before. Astronomer and planet hunter Geoff Marcy has found that highly monochromatic, extremely narrow-band events - blatantly of technological origin - can be found by sifting recorded data from many past optical spectroscopic studies of other stars. After finding 57 such past spectra of Proxima Centauri containing narrowly monochromatic artifacts - and similar phenomena in spectra of other stars - Marcy concluded that the effect has "come from optical ghosts of an interferometric etalon filter at the telescope, about which there is no record in the data logs nor any mention in published papers about these spectra."  

While those artifacts were in the optical range, they might suggest to a casual commentator (DB) that the 982.2 Mhz 2.5-hour 'BLC1' might be something similar – an artifact of instrumentation – only this time manifesting in the radio range.

9. Okay, let’s round this out with… possibility #9, that it's a signal all right... from outer space... for Trump-Putin to engage in 'Plan Nine.'


== Extrapolations ==

All right then. Until I hear from the world expert on this – Jim Benford – it seems to me that 982.002 MHz is a very odd frequency for anyone to use in a propulsion system, so I'm leaning against it. Which is fine by me, since any such propulsion beam would be pushing something toward only one target... us. 


Whatever the actual reality of this event - and I give odds against it being aliens - I suppose this means:

1- Every nut in the South with an old satellite dish will be aiming every kind of antenna toward Proxima Centauri, shouting yoohoo, while ignoring the fact that this is exactly where that precise mistake was made, in Liu Cixin's famous warning novel The Three Body Problem... and...


2- …there will be some adult astronomers aiming at least some kind of professional dish at Proxima Centauri pretty much permanently, from now on. Round the clock. Fine by me. As long as they are listening and not shouting.


 Actually though, as I said, I am rooting against this being 'the real deal'. In my profession – the one that pays the bills, at least - we know far more ways for First Contact to go badly, than well.  


Heck, even in a best case scenario, I'd rather humanity had the pride of fixing ourselves, than giving credit to outsiders. (And that's at-best.)




Final thought. I've long held that the greatest art works transform human souls and hearts without persuasion or argument. I’d almost call that a definition of a great work of art.


    By that measure, inarguably, the greatest artworks of the 20th Century were the Mushroom Cloud, which altered age-old human attitudes toward war, and the Christmas 1968 Apollo 8 pictures of Earth as a fragile blue oasis, stirring millions to see a duty – and self-interest – in saving the planet. 

I've long held that a third image of similar "art" redolence – again produced by science - might be the confirmed, modulated signal on a SETI screen, perhaps less visually stunning but with similar cosmic import. 
Here’s a gif of what such an image might look like, generated by my friend and renowned radio astronomer Dr. Tom Kuiper, as technical advisor for a film:

If this event is the real deal (and again, I’d rather it were not) how weird that it happens right on schedule, near the end of another 1968-level year. And hence the timing of this posting, as we finish wearying 2020, when it seemed that all the ills of the world had been released… well don’t we badly need that glimmer of hope, at the bottom of Pandora’s Box? 


Would it be in poor taste to say "stay tuned"?


 == And those 'political blips' ==

Ignore this lagniappe, if you like. But...

1. Here's an image that speaks for itself. And hence, if you see bunches of cars in front of a neighbor's house for a Superbowl Party, you might leaflet the cars with this jpeg plus just the following:

"Cases surge 1-week after big gathering events. Hope you'll stay safe and well and caring to others!"

2. Re: impeachment. First UN-REDACT the Mueller Report! It can be done as normal Justice Dept. housecleaning. And the nation would notice and it would sway the vote... as would  having secret ballots in the Senate trial!

3. Elsewhere I've cited a dozen buried bills that Pelosi-Schumer could instantly pass because few would dare to oppose them. Some as short as one sentence! e.g. "Secret Servant agents are not personal servants." What Republican would dare vote no? And the implied rebuke of the recently departed would be priceless. 

These are what Michael Moore and others should be pushing right now. It's called ... judo.

You know there will be more... lots more... when I can find the most precious resource... time.


David Brin said...

In the antecedent community disc I put a call for Wikip help, from anyone so inclined.

Keith Halperin said...

@Re: Political things: With luck the Rethuglicans will continue committing fratricide. As they tried to use Speaker Pelosi and AOC as boogey monsters, the Democrats should use Marjorie Taylor Greene as the same in 2022 likely-swing districts.

sgs said...

My guess is that the signal is coming from the telescope itself. They need to check their cables. Remember the FTL neutrinos? Cables. The M Drive? Cables.
In 40 years in the computer business, I'd estimate that half of all problems (hardware and software) are due to cables.

I'm reminded of an episode at Caltech (would have been either your freshman year or the year before) where a mechanical engineering grad student hooked a mechanical oscillator to the library. The data made no sense -- the energy was simply vanishing. Turns out that the library had an almost perfect impedance match to the surrounding ground. However, it *did* show up on seismographs all over the West Coast. As a perfect sine wave. Drove the geologists crazy until they figured it out.
IOW, you may not be measuring what you think you are measuring.

David Brin said...

Huh sgs. Cool story!

Don Gisselbeck said...

A little nit-picky pedantry, trombones can gliss up as well as down.🤣

Anonymous said...

If it's a propulsion beam, we don't have to worry, because "they" have stupidly pushed whatever they're trying to fling our way towards where we are Now, not where we're likely to be in another 40 years (guessing max v = .1 c)? Like a bad AA Fire Director, which shoots at where the target is/appears, rather then where it's gonna be when the Flak goes Boom? I can't make sense of an "intelligence" which could design & build machinery to do that without understanding relative motion. Or am I picturing this wrong? (If our velocity relative to Proxima Centauri is close enough to zero, then my objection is moot; and there may be other things that I'm just not getting...)

- elkern

Alfred Differ said...

There are SO many things the Proxima signal could be. It's fun to ponder aliens and other unlikely scenarios, but it ain't likely.

Cables? 50% of the time. I could believe that. The other 50% is when the software guys convince the computers to do exactly what they say but not what they intend.

Many years ago, in a small start-up, we made our own small devices to loft into the stratosphere on weather balloons in order to find a cold, poor heat sink environment for later space plans. Much of what we made can be purchased nowadays, but not then. So... small computers, battery sets, transmitters for data and video, pyrotechnic elements for cutting away from the balloon, wires to connect it all, and much more were home made and hand fashioned. It's simply AMAZING how difficult it is to engineer complex devices that don't interfere with themselves especially with VHF and UHF transmitters nearby running a minimum of 1/3W and up to 5W.

So we tested. Battery life, network glitches, stray/spurious data sources, etc. And we learned... usually the hard way. For example, one time on a battery life test, one of us took a device to work and put it under our desk. Expected battery life was supposed to expire midday, so that person could collect the data on a break or at lunch. Unfortunately, the little transmitter inserted a heavy signal on the company's computer network. Occasionally. Brought successful packet transmissions to a stand-still for minutes at a time. Eventually our person figured out they were the cause of the frantic network guy's concerns and slinked away with the device. We learned a lot from that event and better shielded our own wiring on future devices, but also understood that we'd probably never understand all the risks we created for ourselves.

There are SO many things to consider in complex systems when odd events happen. My co-worker gremlins are far more likely than aliens.

Alfred Differ said...

The GME comment on the last post looked a little spam-like. Not sure.

If it wasn't, I'll mention for the record that I won't bring ideas here that I think can result in foolish* investment decisions. I can certainly be wrong about such things, but I won't knowingly spread ideas to exploit ignorance... and that especially applies to the silliness around GME's prices lately. A lot of other things too.

* I might sell my paltry pile of silver**, though. For cash. Face-to-face transaction required.

** They'll toss me out of libertarian meetings no doubt.

David Brin said...

Interesting question re what IS our relative velocity vs. Proxima and Alpha C trinary in general?

scidata said...

Although that Brin-less Wikipedia Gravity Waves page bothered me, I cannot offer to fix it. I was bigly rebuked there once for being a fraud/WannabeScientist/interloper. My BP issues forbid me from trying again. My tilting at windmills days are officially over. Too bad, because if the Enlightenment is saved, it will be by a plurality of laymen who embrace literacy and numeracy. Ivory towers indirectly serve the interests of the monster-rider-demagogues. I have a soft spot for the confederate masses, but I have no time for the cynical political elite. The GOP is now circling the drain, yet some Dem nomenklatura seem to be frantically searching for the stopper. Why?

They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, LET 'EM CRASH.

Re: Proxima signal
I concur 120% with the cables comment. I've been made a fool of by faulty RS232, ring, and ethernet cables. It gets even worse if you include radio waves. In "On the Beach" (1959), the only remaining sub crew is lured all the way from Australia to San Diego (of course)* by a strong yet undecipherable signal. They finally get there only to discover it to be an operator-less Morse key that's tangled up with a coke bottle and window blind, generating random gibberish. Rampant pattern seeking worked well on the savannah, no so much in the modern mechanized world.

* Why do so many 1950s SF plots end up in SoCal? (my favourite is "Them")

Keith Halperin said...

Re: Possible Proxima Probe: A possible Starwisp (,, headed our way?
I say: "NOPE". Why? The "Angels or Apes Scenario".
What's the probability that the first intelligent species we learn about isn't either at the Ape or the Angel stage of development/evolution, but happens to be just at OUR stage and is RIGHT NEXT DOOR? That's Star Trek stuff, not reality.

On a more technical note, is there a way to estimate the power of the signal?

Alfred Differ said...

The instrument used to detect Peanut Butter had a resolution of about 50 cm/s. The next one coming online is supposed to be around 10 cm/s. So... I imagine they know the radial component of velocity for Proxima fairly well.

Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia, Proxima's radial velocity relative to the sun is 22km/s. That would mean a shift of about 4.6A.U./year, a bit less than the radius of Jupiter's orbit. If Breakthrough Starshot can be taken as a reference (20-30 years), the shift would be 140 A.U., beyond the heliopause. I am not able to tell now, but it may be that gravitational effects from the Sun could actually pull it to a closer range.

In any case, it is not a miss by that much, at least relative to the distance to Proxima, but if let us accept that it should have been compensated for at launch or during acceleration. This would mean that if the planets of the solar system were targeted, the Expected Time of Arrival should be not more than 3-4years from detection, depending on the desired flyby and speed (assuming that v<<c and neglecting relativistic effects for this gross estimate).

It is interesting that if the beam were to be coming from Proxima and pointed towards a point in the direction of the solar system but not the Earth specifically, it may be possible to estimate its diameter from the speed of the Earth's rotation around the Sun . I don't have the data about the actual relative motion of the Earth from Proxima's viewpoint at that time, but if the signal was present for roughly for 3h (as published somewhere), assuming we were moving orthogonal to the beam and that the beam was static in the you are talking about a beam diameter of up to 324.000km. If the signal was recorded for some hours of observation time but over a several week period (as published by some other media outlets), you could be talking about a beam diameter in the range of a few tens of millions of km.

A major challenge is that for a beam of such a low frequency not to diverge excessively over 4light years because of diffraction (especially because we are assuming that the ship is not too far away from its target), you need a beam diameter of roughly 120.000 km. This may be compatible with an observation time for the signal of several hours in our orbit, or less if we are not intersecting the beam through its middle and thresholding effects from detector sensitivity are significant. It is true that a focused beam could have other parameters at intersection, but since the distance from the source is so long, minuscule numerical apertures can be expected and the parameters of the beam may not be so different in practice from those of a collimated one. Of course, the question of how to build a sail of even a fraction of 120.000 km and how to generate a beam of that size is massive.

Were we to take the propelling beam hypothesis in other directions, it may be that a far-away flyby is actually desired and that the signal corresponds to the launch of the ship, or that the speed that the ship achieves is much higher than 10% of c, reducing the total travel time and the corresponding error. In the case that the hypothetical beam origintated at the launch of the ship, one would expect a much smaller diameter beam close to the departure point, but also much stronger divergence. In Starwisp, a 560km focusing element was considered,, which would result in a beam diameter on the Earth of about 6million km.

jim said...

Well I was wondering when the Democrats I know were going to show up.
They are out there doing their best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

How you ask? Simple, they first go back on their word to send 2,000$ checks out and instead reduce it to 1,400$ (+ 600 That Trump sent you) Then they have the brilliant idea to change the eligibility requirements so that something like 20-25% of the people who got checks from Trump will not get checks from Biden. If they are so stupid to do this we can write off the 2022 elections as soon as the screw 20% of the population out of the stimulus check they were promised and are expecting.

David Brin said...

Thanks Jim, for exemplifying the pyrotechnically dishonorable and insipid ingrate disloyalty we can all expect from your kind.

No mountain of good deeds will earn a scintilla of loyalty from you.

No tactical /pragmatic-political step will be greeted with a scintilla of patient trust or a smidgeon of the goodwill he has earned from you.

The very idea that you are part of a movement, whose leaders have earned credibility and some loyalty and support of patience is something your kind is utterly incapable of conceiving of... while the mad right marches in lockstep with any hypocrisy or treason they are asked to raionalize.

No, Biden isn't showing why we'll lose in 2022... YOU are.

David Brin said...

Anonymous, you are lucky you got through. On rare occasions I sift the spam bucket amid its sewer of insane ravings for gems like yours. Most months I don't bother at all.

The figure you cite is RADIAL velocity which is movement TOWARD OR AWAY from Proxima. Still, one figures lateral or transverse velocity ought to be similar. So lateral drift of the beam could explain why the Proxima signal cuts off... but only if the beam was very narrow even after traversing 4 LY. More likely it would cut off because the propulsion beam isn't on all the time.

I doubt your estimate that we'd only have 3-4 years of warning. Propelling above say 10%c makes little sense for any kind of probe... except a weapon.

Remember this detection is in radio. Hence if it is not a MASER but an antenna- FOCUSED beam (the two ways you can get a monochromatic peam that's very narrow) then there will be SIDE LOBES and even a backward lobe. So it is possible that we got swept by one of those and the beam was actually targeted way away somewhere else.

Again I hope you'll sign up, cause anonymous stuff mostly gets flushed automatically. Keep watching the skies!

jim said...

Well David if you get over your hatred of me and think strategically for a second you might be able to see the attempt to change the criteria for receiving a stimulus check so that some 20%-25% of the population that got a check from Trump will not get one from Biden is a really bad idea if you want to win an election in 2022.

People are expecting that money and if the Democrats decide to screw 20-25% of them out of their stimulus check, it will stick in their craw and that betrayal of them will fester, and it may not matter what else the democrats do.

Do you remember “Read my lips no new taxes.” And how well that broken promise from Bush cost him the election?

David Brin said...

Jim I don't hate you in the slightest! And indeed, at times your citokate (while 80%+ of the time wrongheaded) can be enlightening or at least makes me think.

But your reflexes are so profoundly typical of why the center+left coalition keeps losing to a mad right they overhwelmingly outnumber. Your last missve was so stereotypical it was almost a carricature!

Your followup is still bullshit. If middle class voters who fall above the new cutoff can't tell that it was goppers who forced the change, then screw em. Most will know.

Anyway, there are a million issues before us but in your utter contempt for your fellow citizens, you think all they'll vote based upon is one particular item way back in February 2021.

The salient fact before us is your contempt for your fellow citizens, calling them one-issue grudge holders, simplistically blaming Biden for a single disappointment and excuse to leap-upon.

No, my friend. That's you.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Anonymous: Thanks for the detailed info re: Proxi and Peanut Butter (aka, Proxima b)

@ Everybody: I've never been able to find this out from the SETI folks, but here's a thought experiment:
Let's say some nasty person pissed off at the Tandu gives an episiarch a bit of Walter White's fine blue crystal meth- it goes CRAZY and out pops a a complete duplicate of our Solar System (including us and everything else) as of THIS Planck time. How far away would our duplicates' SETI be able to detect US, doing EXACTLY what we're doing now, i.e. how far away could we detect a 0.7R (Kardashev-Sagan Scale) civilization like ours which is neither actively signaling nor hiding?

David Brin said...

Keith, you are treading dangerously close to my plot for TSUNAMI...

Larry Hart said...


they first go back on their word to send 2,000$ checks out and instead reduce it to 1,400$ (+ 600 That Trump sent you)

$2000 wasn't the Democrats' promise in the first place, it was Trump's. But Democrats weren't the ones who refused to go that high. Republicans insisted on limiting the checks to $600. Trump wanted to raise that to $2000 (and Democrats said, "Fine, we're ok with that."), but Republicans for once didn't do what Trump wanted. So if the Democrats now send the difference--the $1400 that was "missing" from the Republican checks--that's hardly a betrayal of what was originally promised.

Also, despite the right-wing caricature of us liberals, some of us out here who probably won't qualify aren't champing at the bit for free money. My wife and I would rather see the disaster relief (not "stimulus"--that's not what it's for*) go more to those whose businesses and paychecks need to be kept afloat while they weather the loss of business and employment. We both thankfully still have jobs, and while I gratefully accept money if it's sent my way, I'm not going to be so angry about not getting a check that I would punish Democrats by letting Republicans win their seats. That's crazy talk!

* Back in March and April, the government did the right thing by subsidizing businesses that couldn't operate during the pandemic so that they could keep paying their employees and maintain their operations in a holding pattern. That would allow them to start right back up when the pandemic subsided without having to hire new workers and without the laid-off workers having to find new jobs. That's what we still should be doing in this new COVID wave. But Republicans think of the relief as "stimulus" meant to encourage people to go out and spend money, when the problem is that there's nowhere to spend it on. "Stimulus" is a solution to the 2008 problem, not the 2020 one.

David Brin said...

LH you make good points, but I refuse to debate Jim on the 'merits" of his cherrypicking at-last-Biden-did-something- to-let-me-go-GOTCHA! malarkey.

Like it or hate it, he is our leader in trying to save Western Civilization and any hope of a liberally decent and just and fact-attentive nation. And it's going to take more than sifting past 100 good actions for one excuse-to-go-aha! to make me - or any reasonable person - betray him.

Criticize an action? Call for an alternative? I've already done that plenty! But if he calls for my help, my one word is "Sir."

Larry Hart said...

Biden is smarter than he's given credit for...

From Biden's perspective, reducing the amount of money "rich" people get would be a political twofer. To progressive Democrats he could say: "I prevented rich people from getting a government handout." To Republicans he could say: "Thank you for your suggestion. It was a good idea so I followed it. I like this bipartisanship thingie. If you have any more good ideas, do let me know." They would fume quietly, since reducing government handouts to rich-ish people is not one of their real priorities, but in the ensuing PR battle, Biden would win.

On the other hand, Biden is not buying everything the Republicans are selling. In particular, he has rejected the $600-billion Republican COVID-19 relief bill, saying it is too small. So he is picking and choosing which parts of the Republican offerings he likes. Smart guy. He should go into politics.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

but I refuse to debate Jim on the 'merits" of his cherrypicking at-last-Biden-did-something- to-let-me-go-GOTCHA! malarkey.

I read jim's comment a bit differently from how you did--that he was criticizing Biden as engaging in bad tactics for selling Democrats to voters in upcoming elections. He might even be right, despite (or because of) that view relying on voters being incredibly ignorant about who does what and why in Congress.

The logical extension of that rabbit hole is really that Trump excited his base by being a one-man clown show, so in order for Democrats to win, they need to out-perform Trump in the entertainment department. It reminds me of a bit in The West Wing in which the leader of an Arab nation which was purportedly a US ally (but which clandestinely supported anti-US terrorism) commiserates with Leo about how President Bartlett can't publicly appear to be prejudiced against Arabs in an election year. Leo replies something like, "On the contrary, all he would have to do to ensure his reelection would be to blow your head off in Times Square and then cross the street to Nathan's and eat a hot dog."

Leo was probably right, but there are some things you just don't do if you're the good guys.

David Brin said...

LH it was stillleaping at the first excuse... after weeks of more than a hundred honorable and forward and progressive actions on every issue... to howl with joy and relief "NOW I've got an excuse to re-stoke my hate-the-leader obsession!"

It doesn't matter if Jim can be shown how that leader - a savvy politician who must navigate complicated political shoals - is actually handling this better than Jim thought. The reflex remains the same. Jim will just re-coil, ready to spring at the next excuse you howl "Betrayal! See? I don't owe him anything!"

Certainly nothing like "loyalty" or "patience" or "trust". Not even "a little slack."

Jon S. said...

Elkern, if it's a propulsion beam, the item being propelled would be riding that beam, not that far behind. We're not talking about Barnard's Star here; the proper motion of Proxima, while measurable with the correct instrumentation, is small. (Unless you imagine the prospective inhabitants of a tidally-locked world around a flare star would think of a wet mudball like Earth as a potential location for exploration, such a probe should be aimed at the Solar system in general, not us in particular.)

jim said...

If for a moment we ignore our biggest problem of being deep into ecological overshoot, probably the next biggest problem we face in the US is the crisis of legitimacy of the government. A substantial portion of the population thinks that the other political party is evil. Certainly, at contrary brin the republican party is viewed as evil and should not be allowed to govern. A whole lot of conservatives believe that the democrats are out to get them and should not be allowed to govern either.

If Biden and the democrats do substantially change the eligibility for the stimulus checks it will feed into the already existing distrust for the democrats. If they do change the eligibility from 75,000 down to 50,000 $ who does that exclude? A whole lot of working class folks, who already have a great deal of distrust for democrats. So you are going to tell that working class woman making 75000 per year that she is too wealthy to get a stimulus check – even though she got 1800$ from Trump. And instead of her getting her share of the stimulus checks you are going to send that money to someone else. And if the democrats think that won’t be used by a bunch of racist to help tear this country apart, they don’t know this country.

Biden has been preaching unity, unity, unity, but if he goes and shows that he was willing to deliberately target those working class folks (who are not rich) and exclude them from the stimulus checks they were promised it will not be unifying.

TCB said...

The current talk is that Biden, under pressure from top Dems, is looking at forgiving all federal student debt up to $50,000. He wants to do it with Congress but it does look as if he could do it unilaterally.

This would leave 36 million borrowers debt-free, or about 80% of all Americans with federal loans. It would obviously reduce whatever the other 7 million owe as well. These are all voting-age people, again obviously.

Look for Democrats to campaign on this boon for years to come, and don't listen to the naysayers who complain (for instance) that "this will just make college get even more expensive!" Fixing the problem of expensive higher ed is something that we can postpone while we work on the dozens of bigger problems. Like saving democracy. Which can be helped by tens of millions of grateful ex-debtors who can vote.

David Brin said...

Blah blah blah baloney. The specifics AND the generality of Jim's yammer have been refuted.

Specifics: anyone marginally aware knows it was Republicans who forced any reduction in benefits.

Generality: Jim utterly, utterly and utterly ignores the pure fact that his reactions are exactly as I described,,, ingrate compulsion to ignore mountains of good things and concoct a (wholly untrue) excuse to satisfy his urge to betray.

As for Saving Democracy, I've listed 31 things that'd go a long way.

And sure I am frustrated that my EXACT prescriptions aren't IMMEDIATELY being followed in EXACTLY the order and fashion I prescribed. Label me irked... and loyal to the leaders who are trying hard to go in the directions we need to go.

jim said...

David said something so funny
“ Specifics: anyone marginally aware knows it was Republicans who forced any reduction in benefits.”

It is democrat Joe Manchin and democrat Joe Biden and democratic economic advisor Larry Summers talking about changing the eligibility requirements. And it does not look like any republicans will be voting for the pandemic relief, so how did the republicans “force” the democrats to eliminate a lot of working class folks from getting a pandemic stimulus check?

And this is just ridiculous David
“Jim utterly, utterly and utterly ignores the pure fact that his reactions are exactly as I described,,, ingrate compulsion to ignore mountains of good things and concoct a (wholly untrue) excuse to satisfy his urge to betray.”

So any cogent criticism of how stupid it is to betray a substantial portion those people who are expecting a pandemic stimulus check is a betrayal of Biden? I am hoping that he and the rest of the democrats will wise up and not screw those working men and women out of the stimulus check they are expecting. If they leave the eligibility requirements alone and pass what they promised the stimulus bill could be very good and unifying but if they target working class men and women and exclude them from the stimulus bill and instead send that money to someone else they it will generate a ton of bad blood. (you are dealing with Americans not Vulcans)

David Brin said...

I am done with that stunning obduracy. He'll find any excuse to feel betrayed and thus be off the hook for any sliver of loyalty.

Meanwhile, Apparently my life partner's instincts are correct. Eyeglasses seem to help vs the crud!

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin: excited to read Tsunami.

@ Jim: Who did you vote for President in 2020?

@ Everybody, I'd be happy to forgo my stimulus package if needed AND by making the stimulus means-tested, it gives a wedge for the Retrumplicans to say "Look at what those lazy, good-for-nothings got when we the job-creators didn't".
Having everyone receive it (like Social Security) takes that away. (I didn't hear too many of Trumplestiltskins saying "Social Security is socialism! End it now!"). IMHO, if someone doesn't want it- return it, pay your taxes with it, or give it to charity/away. In the spirit of OGH, perhaps those politicos openly opposed to it could be challenged to make a solemn public promise to return their and their families' stimulus checks. (While not exactly "Polemical Judo," that could be a bit of "Keithical Kungfu".)

Larry Hart said...

Keith Halperin:

@ Everybody, I'd be happy to forgo my stimulus package if needed AND by making the stimulus means-tested, it gives a wedge for the Retrumplicans to say "Look at what those lazy, good-for-nothings got when we the job-creators didn't".
Having everyone receive it (like Social Security) takes that away.

So are you fer' it or again' it? I began reading that sentence thinking you were saying one thing, and then came away with the diametric opposite conclusion by the end.

Jon S. said...


"(I didn't hear too many of Trumplestiltskins saying "Social Security is socialism! End it now!")"

You should check out Mitt Romney's latest proposal. It dresses itself up as a UBI - until you realize that it only arrives once a year, it's awarded on the basis of how many children you have, and it's predicated on killing TANF, SNAP, and most other programs to help the poor, especially those programs to aid poor people without children. Oh, and single parents would no longer be able to file taxes as Head of Household, meaning they'd lose out on another of the (vanishingly few) tax breaks available to single parents. (He says it would "encourage marriage".)

And I'll buy Romney as not just another Trumpista in a nice suit the day he actually votes to convict Donnie at his impeachment trial.

Robert said...

single parents would no longer be able to file taxes as Head of Household

So widows and widowers with children are penalized? Sounds cruel. (And very Republican.)

Alfred Differ said...


I think you are making up crap to be upset about regarding Biden.

Some of us really don't need the checks. We aren't all severely impacted. I'm a lucky example. My employer and primary customer are pleasantly surprised by the fact the the pandemic hasn't halted our ability to perform what they need done. That was NOT the early prediction, but we've got smart people who found ways to make things work. So... our incomes continue to flow even while we hide out at home. Fortunate for us.

There is no harm excluding us. Quite the opposite. Give the money where it is needed and avoid blowing up the public debt needlessly. It's already huge, so I appreciate not making it huge-r.

Alfred Differ said...

I remember many years ago learning that they weren't really certain that Proxima was gravitationally bound to alpha-Cen. Apparently the HARPS instrument settled that question.

That paper has absolute velocity estimates for the alpha-Cen barycenter and Proxima along with details for how they determined them. What I find interesting is how uncertain the orbit for Proxima still is. We know it is bound, but there is quite a bit of room regarding the actual shape. Eccentricity is near 0.5 and it's near apoapsis. Orbit period a little over half a million years. Pretty neat.

TCB said...

If you don't need the 1400 bux, the solution is simple. Give it to Stacy Abrams.

Andy said...

Whelp, I finally got caught by COVID a couple weeks ago. I'm 35 and healthy so it was somewhat bad, but not that bad. It's interesting you posted that study about eyeglasses, Dr. Brin, because I suspect I was infected through my eye. My first symptom was that my left eye kept watering all day. It felt kinda like the start of pinkeye. I didn't think much of it until that evening, when my boss mentioned he had a sore throat, and I googled and found that a watery eye is a fairly common initial symptom.

We'd been doing some work at a business a few days prior, where a large group of people came in and we were around them for half an hour. Everyone was wearing masks, but we still caught it.

I was in a car with a friend, without masks, the day before I had my watery eye. Luckily my friend didn't come down with it. That's why I think I was infected through my eye - it's where my initial symptoms were, and my friend didn't catch it even though I was breathing in an enclosed space with them.

The symtoms didn't get bad until the third day, when the fever started. At the highest it was slightly under 104, right on the edge of being dangerous. I figure fever is the body's way of fighting the virus so I almost stuck it out, but Doctor Mom made me take some Tylenol which lowered the fever. Other symptoms were overall aches and pains (oddly including a couple of my fingers aching... Is that what arthritis feels like?), feeling crappy, easily winded, some slight congestion, and a dry cough which I'm still recovering from.

I felt better for a couple days after the initial fever, but then it came back for another 4 days or so. Finally it gradually faded away.

So, if you don't mind looking goofy, wear goggles! They just might stop you from catching the bug.

David Brin said...

Andy so glad you are feeling better. It sounds like awful crud. And your eye-anecdote is daunting. Hoping you recover completely.

Alfred, red THE 3 BODY PROBLEM. Liu Cixin is mixed. His version of the Alpha C system is so fun! but also fantasy.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Regarding the extra support cash, I also don't need it. I'm salary, and my job will continue regardless of pandemic or other disaster. I wouldn't turn down the extra cash if it was handed to me, but I will certainly survive, with plenty of money to spend on frivolous things I don't really need just fine without it.

I'm fairly confident that the vast majority of people who would be excluded with the proposed limits are in similar situations where they really don't need the extra cash, and won't be terribly upset by not getting it.

Certainly not so much that they'll remember it as a pivotal grudge three years from now. We'll all have more important things to worry about by then.

David Brin said...

And yet Biden says "$1400 or bust!" So maybe he hired a new advisor named "Jim."

TCB said...

All I can add is: If the Proxima signal is coming from a body orbiting one of the three stars in that system, and the Doppler shift is rising, and that satellite is ALSO moving toward Earth during the relevant part of its orbit, then you would add the velocities. Had the signal persisted, it would perhaps have Doppler shifted in a way that clearly indicated it was emanating from a satellite/planet thereof by subtracting from the total Doppler shift. If ya see what I mean. Epicycles, yo.

David Brin said...

A dish orbiting or on a planet that sent a 'signal' or power beam AWAY from us to a reflector concentratorin a much more distant orbit, reflecting and concentration the energy into a colimated beam toward us... THAT would likely create a rising doppler -- yes? Brain... hurts...

Ilithi Dragon said...

I get the feeling this isn't the kind of problem that can be solved by the rigorous application of a 16" crescent hammer...

Alfred Differ said...


Ugh. Stacy Abrams should be funded by people who want the franchise expanded, but not at the expense of stealing money from people who wouldn't give it to her just so people like me can give it to her.

No. Contributions to her work should be strictly voluntary. Those $$ are MUCH more meaningful that way.


I got part way into that book and had to put it down. I was wincing way too much at the social carnage in the early pages. No doubt that provides context later, but it's hard to take. [Horror stories are not my cup of tea.]

They have the oldest civilization on the planet! And yet...

I'll try again some day.

Alfred Differ said...

Was there a link to the numbers regarding the frequency drift the researchers saw in the Proxima signal? I didn't notice if there was.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Ugh. Stacy Abrams should be funded by people who want the franchise expanded, but not at the expense of stealing money from people who wouldn't give it to her just so people like me can give it to her.

"stealing money from..." The taxation is theft thing. In the 1930s, perhaps. I think we've moved on to a different paradigm (without acknowledging it--possibly because doing so would make it stop working). As far as I can tell, the COVID relief money isn't being taken from someone else in the form of extra taxes. It is literally being made up out of thin air. Now the usual argument against that sort of thing is that making money up out of thin air "debases" the currency in the form of inflation (Argentina! Greece!) and/or imposes a heavy borrowing cost in the form of interest payments. But in the actual world, inflation isn't happening (despite the reasons why it maybe should be), and interest costs are so low as to be essentially negative. That is--the more you borrow, the more you save.

With interest and inflation so low, it is almost criminal not to use deficit spending to finance true investment--spending money in order to facilitate making more money later--on things like infrastructure. And I put "Keeping business afloat without sales and keeping employees employed without business" during the pandemic in that category. And it's all done without taking that money from anyone else.

* * *

On the specific subject of "stimulus" checks to individuals who remain gainfully employed (you and I both included), I think I agree with you that it's not the best economic strategy (though it may be a better political strategy). I wasn't arguing about that--just the "taking money" thing.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ redux:

I got part way into that book [ The Three Body Problem ]and had to put it down. I was wincing way too much at the social carnage in the early pages. No doubt that provides context later, but it's hard to take. [Horror stories are not my cup of tea.]

It helps to keep in mind that the author is Chinese, so the backstory being set in the 60s would have to have reference to the Cultural Revolution. Also, it does indeed provide motivation for one of the characters later on.

Once you get to the part about the game (or "game") which drives the plot, it is a much different book. In fact, the book reminded me of Reamde (yes, it's spelled that way) in that that book took me about a third of the way in before I could tell which direction the plot was really headed. And I mean that as a good thing.

Der Oger said...

I read the "Three Body Problem" and found some characters - mainly the older police officer - somewhat cheesy and the solution somewhat ... implausible. But then again, this might be how you sell books in China, or get them past the censors.

Re: BLC 1 / Proxi System:
It might not be a perfect place for a technologically advanced civilization to evolve ... but it may be a perfect place for studying our system or studying *us*. Or waiting for us to visit them there ... as a test, if we are worthy of their notice.

duncan cairncross said...

Larry Hart

I am a great fan of Robert Heinlein - especially

Beyond This Horizon
One of the most important parts IMHO was right at the start
A simple explanation that The money supply should increase as the economy does
Which if you think of money in the economy as similar in function to blood in a body makes perfect sense
The other side of this is that the increase in money supply is normally added directly to the basic living stipend (We could simply mail a cheque to all citizens)

Directly from the book
"We call the system “finance” and the symbols “money” The symbolic structure should bear a one to one relationship to the physical structure of production and consumption .
It’s my job to keep track of the actual growth of the physical processes and recommend to the policy board changes in the symbol structure to match those in the physical structure"

These two simple rules are the opposite of what we do Money supply is NOT linked to the physical economy The increase in money supply goes to those who hold assets (the 0.1%)

Every year:
Engineers work out how to make things better/cheaper
More is built than falls down
The "Physical Structure of Production and Consumption" - becomes Larger

The correct solution is to increase the money supply
And the best way to do that is to give the "extra money" to the poorest
Next best is to give it to everybody

Absolute WORST! - is to give it to the rich

The "Debt" is simply the increase that we have made in the money supply!!

China is an old old country - but at the start of the 20th century it was over 200 years behind the "West"
The Cultural Revolution was truly awful - but it was still BETTER than the period that preceded it
Mao made some bloody stupid decision
But for the Chinese he presided over the period when they went from famines killing tens of millions twice a generation
Too no famines!
America has never had that period of regular famines
Europe escaped from that in the 1600's/1700's/1800's
It took longer three or four hundred years so it was not the massive change it was in China

Keith Halperin said...

I'm way behind....
@ Larry H: I think we should give $1,400 to the maximum number originally proposed, and no means-testing. I'm not a splitter: We should go for all we can get and if it's not everything we want- there's next time. Politics is the art of the possible, not of the ideal.

@ Jon S: Thanks, I'd heard about the Romney plan the day before on NPR-
I appreciate you mentioning the downsides.

@ Duncan-do you deny that Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward (that aimed to rapidly transform China's economy from agrarian to industrial) led to the deadliest famine in history and the deaths of 15–55 million people between 1958 and 1962, or do you say that those numbers are greatly inflated, or that they were accurate but "sacrifices needed to be made for the greater good"?

@Everybody: Assuming this is true, WHOA! We lucked out big-time....
The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election

duncan cairncross said...


The numbers were inflated - they probably just about reached the lower bound
and they are LOWER than the previous famines and (most important) they were the LAST famines
Prior to that there was a similar famine every 20 years

Mao stuffed up - but he still stopped the famines

Was it possible to move from the situation after WW2 - to a modern economy without any famines??


But nobody else has moved between two points like that without famines

India was in a hugely better place than China in the 1940's - still had a big famine - and they are STILL having famines
"Another Times of India report in 2010 has stated that 50% of childhood deaths in India are attributable to malnutrition"

Russia had famines up until 1947

So IMHO China despite that final famine did BETTER than other countries that were actually positioned better

With hindsight we can see where Mao Zedong screwed up by the numbers
But I'm not at all sure that anybody could have done better

Our hosts CITOKATE would have helped -

David Brin said...

Duncan, the real Revolution was by Sun Yat Sen and the KMT in 1945 was not doing too badly by China. Needed a housecleaning but there was a wing doing that.

I well-believe the death rates calculated for Mao. He was very much an acolyte of Stalin when it came to "millions of deaths are a statistic."

Deng was the big hero... and it looked as if they might have the guts to go for BOTH development and freedom. They decided to make that a zero sum choice and to zero-sum a choice: EITHER Cina or America. The very notion of positive sum appears to be absent. A pity, since across 4000 years, America was their only friend.

Alfred Differ said...


I don't have to push the libertarian taxation position to use 'steal' this time. Think of the many people who disagree with Abrams. If their tax money is shifted to her cause, they WILL see it as theft and they aren't exactly libertarian in their complaints about it.

That's kinda the point, though. Majority rule isn't such a good idea when it comes to funding controversial efforts. You and I (and many here) think it a good thing to have her allies voting, but a significant minority disagrees. Pick any other topic like that where we split strongly and we should be very cautious about how we fund the work.

In her case, the Confederates have no moral high ground IF we fund her out of our own pockets. No theft involved. Simply charitable, progressive assertions about the future we want for our country.

As for it not coming out of anyone's pockets yet… well… you know better. It's coming out of your kid's pockets. Who do you think is going to pay for all this? It might make financial sense (for pandemic recovery I'm inclined to support y'all), but it DOES come at someone's expense.

As for taking the money while it costs little, that can make sense if one can pay it off before it costs a lot to refinance it later. That ain't gonna happen. Cheap money now is also providing fixed income to the very people Piketty points out as our oligarchs. They don't put their money in the stock market. They mostly wait for y'all to borrow it. The bond markets are the oceans of wealth while we stock market speculators piss about in the lakes, rivers, and coastal waters.

Alfred Differ said...


Regarding the Cultural Revolution backstory…

Yah. It's a hard story to take, though.

You'll hear me occasionally use the 'taxation is theft' line without really wanting to poke too many of you. The other line I use is 'socialism is responsible for about 80 million non-war deaths in the 20th century' and I'm not so disinclined to avoid a sharp jab at folks.

I don't mean the nonsense version of 'socialism' the Trumpists cooked up for the last election. I mean the harder kind put into practice in Russia, eastern Europe, China, and SE Asia. I mean the kind that many of the softer socialists prefer not to have called socialism at all. "That's authoritarianism!" Nah. Hayek pointed out the connection and the non-war death toll proved to be an absolutely spectacular repudiation of the whole stinking mess.

No many people think about it, but I have.
That's why the first pages of the book are hard for me to read.

Alfred Differ said...

Funny thing about famines and how they end…

Look through Europes recent few centuries. They used to be pretty common though localized. Once or twice a generation coupled with plagues of one sort or another.

Then… they stopped. Here. There. Then in a few other places. The stopping spread much like a disease does.

Some things could set them off again. Wars. Conquest. Disease. Not forever, though. In places where famines stopped, they eventually stopped again.

Now look around the world. When and where was the last few famines? Can we point to a recent war limiting access to food? Usually. Within the last generation… definitely.

Not so with China. No war. No conquest. No plague. They had a whopping big famine, though. Then it stopped and hasn't returned for almost two generations so far. Probably won't be back for quite a while.


If Famine were one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I'd say we unseated him and quite possibly delivered a mortal blow.

How? Well… Green Revolution? Nah. Famines began to end in the 17th century as far as Europe was concerned. They didn't even have an understanding of fertilizers back then, though they were getting close with understanding a need to rotate crops in the fields.

We didn't unseat Famine through Science. The mortal wound came later and likely was Science.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Think of the many people who disagree with Abrams. If their tax money is shifted to her cause, they WILL see it as theft

Well, they're free to donate their COVID relief to Marjorie Taylor Greene if they so desire. I know--that's a snide answer. You know what, though? After four years of "Constitutionalist" Republicans being perfectly accepting of my tax money going directly into Donald Trump's pocket in actual defiance of the Constitution, I am out of fucks to give about what they see anything as.

As for it not coming out of anyone's pockets yet… well… you know better. It's coming out of your kid's pockets. Who do you think is going to pay for all this?

I used to think so, but now I'm not so sure. I can't explain the underlying economics, but something counter-intuitive seems to have prevented a national debt numbered in the TRILLIONS from causing hyperinflation or requiring huge tax increases.

If it comes out of my kid's pocket, it will be in the form of inflation, and if COVID relief saves productivity to the point that the economy bounces back, that might not happen.

* * *

On the general subject of The Three Body Problem, I wonder if anyone else here is watching the Disney/Marvel show "WandaVision". I ask because a recent episode made use of the idea of inexplicable manipulation of the CBR (Celestial Background Radiation) left over from the Big Bang, and I wonder if that was directly inspired from the novel in question.

Alfred Differ said...


… they're free to donate their COVID relief to…

That's the problem. Relief is funded (eventually) through taxation which means it isn't their money. It's ours. Taxation is a redistributive process. When I assign tax money anywhere, it originally came from you, me, and everyone else who has to pay taxes. When they donate their relief money, it came from me, you, your kid's future income, etc.

There is a reason we argue over where tax money goes that isn't about the merits of the effort being funded. WE argue because the money is ours. It comes from us and our kids and their kids born or unborn.

As for your snide-ness… yah. I'm with you there. I just want to make sure our current anger doesn't impact our kids.

…causing hyperinflation…

So far. 8)

A big part of this is a belief that the US economy will grow to fill the value we are magically creating when inventing money out of nothing. Another part is wealthy folks around us and overseas (especially) are still willing to buy US debt. It is a sensible investment for them too, so why not, hmm?

If interest rates climb much, there is no way increased taxes will make up for what we will need. There simply won't be enough revenue because of how taxes chill things as much as inflation does.

I'm not that worried though. I'm no where near a doom and gloom kinda guy when it comes to the debt. Cautiously optimistic is a decent description, but a big part of that relies on us being sensible when tossing money around. Help where it is needed and rely on the rest of us to help ourselves. SOME of us are managing that task well enough.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Alfred: re: debt:
I believe you are sincere and consistent in your debt-averse beliefs, and I respect them. What I do not respect are those pseudo-libertarians who abhor debt unless it comes from tax cuts/subsidies to the wealthy and/or from increased military spending in peacetime.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

That's the problem. Relief is funded (eventually) through taxation which means it isn't their money. It's ours. Taxation is a redistributive process. When I assign tax money anywhere, it originally came from you, me, and everyone else who has to pay taxes. When they donate their relief money, it came from me, you, your kid's future income, etc.

Well, yes but...

Remember way back when the earth was cooling in 2008? The banks and financial institutions were about to fail and take the world economy down with it? So We The People were scared into giving them 700 BILLION dollars to mitigate the bad choices that those financial institutions had engaged in. But when we tried to insist that they use that money for good instead of evil--to use that money to refrain from foreclosures and stuff like that--in other words, to "trickle it down" to their customers, we were told that the banks would rather pay themselves huge bonuses, and that we had no business telling them what to do with their money.

So with that as precedent, I say what's good for the goose is good for the gander. The duly elected government funded by taxes has decided that mitigating the economic effects of the pandemic requires handing me $1400. But once they do so, that is my own money.

I wouldn't have designed the universe that way myself, but I'm not willing to let Republicans play by a different set of rules than they make me play by.

duncan cairncross said...

Not so with China. No war. No conquest. No plague. They had a whopping big famine, though. Then it stopped and hasn't returned for almost two generations so far. Probably won't be back for quite a while.

No war no conquest no plague????
You have GOT to be kidding!!
HUGE Civil war, Invasion, Atrocity, another invasion - another civil war

WW2 started in China

Nearly 20 years of horror was the background to that last big plague

TCB said...

I can't believe what a mare's nest I poked by suggesting donating your $1400 to Stacy Abrams if you didn't need it for immediate survival/bills/debts/&c.

I will merely note two observations:
1.) Our federal taxes in the US are not à la carte. We do not get to say "Oh, I do not wish my tax dollars to be spent on THAT" and expect our will to be obeyed. Anti-abortion activists have been sufficiently stubborn to get some traction on that topic, and anti-war activists will sometimes go out of their way to earn too little to pay any federal taxes that might then be spent on wars; but for the general run of taxpayers, we get no real say in the matter. We pay, and Congress sends our widow's mite where it will.

2.) Some folks feel that they are better moral judges of these matters, and would prefer to exert the sort of control that they get by funding charities and churches of their own volition, and I am especially thinking here of social welfare outlays. "Free school meals is socialism!" "I want to decide how my money is spent, and not on drug users and people looking for a handout." Yes, I have heard both those statements. My response, now that I have had time to reflect: Is this really about what is good for society, or for other people? Are you SURE this is not really about your own ego?

Putting my mailman hat on, I'll mention that I used to deliver oodles of welfare checks. This was in the 1990's before most people had direct deposit. Were all of them supposed to be on welfare? Hell if I knew. So-and-so might be getting one fraudulently. He looked healthy enough. So friggin' WHAT, I say. These people are POOR. They're not getting rich chiseling a welfare check, if indeed they are. There are rich crooks legally looting the public exchequer harder than all the welfare recipients on my entire route ever could.

...and that was what I thought in the '90's. These days there are ultra-crooks looting the public exchequer harder than all the poors in my whole city, probably...

David Brin said...

One option proposed that if folks DOUBLE any dollar of their taxes, they get to say ahich department those two dollars go to. And one of those dollars will ADD to that department's budget. Yeah drawbacks are obvious but it adds a dollop of choice sovereignty

Tony Fisk said...

Well, I've gone and done it now: tweaked that wikipedia entry on gravity lasers.

Since I'm stirring the possum, I'm not sure that WWII started exclusively in China. It always struck me as a case of two independent conflicts that gravitated towards each other.

Alfred Differ said...


You are giving Mao way too much credit for not precipitating disaster in the 60's after he had already secured power. I was born in '62. People were starving in China AFTER that and it was utterly unnecessary.


would prefer to exert the sort of control that they get by funding charities and churches of their own volition

Your charge is well aimed for many who think they know better where money should be spent. I'm limiting my current attention to those who feel they know where it should NOT be spent. Whether they are wise or not, if someone takes their money and spends it that way anyway, they DO get upset. At that point, the people who use 'taxation is theft' as a banner grow larger than the tiny libertarian faction.

For the record, though, our family HAS sent money in Abram's direction. I'm a big fan of broad access to voting.


when we tried to insist

That's the Law of Unintended Consequences.
It is as broadly applicable as Murphy's Law.

I get your anger, but watch out for how you obligate all our children, cousins, etc to pay it all back.
You don't just zing the people who anger you.


I'm with you on the fan-boys of the rich. Boot-lickers at best.
… as if those riches would rub off on them.

Der Oger said...

Dr. Brin: "One option proposed that if folks DOUBLE any dollar of their taxes, they get to say ahich department those two dollars go to. And one of those dollars will ADD to that department's budget. Yeah drawbacks are obvious but it adds a dollop of choice sovereignty"

I am sure the neofeudal oligarchs would approve. Perhaps having enough money to influence elections through donations, public opinion through corporate media and political processes through lobbying is not enough power?

Der Oger said...

@Duncan Cairnross: "WW2 started in China"

While you are not wrong with the pacific part of WW2, I'd rather say the War of 1871 between France and Germany already set the conditions for WW 1 and 2.

But even if looking at the pacific part of the war, roots of this conflict can be found in Euro-American colonialism during roughly the same years. The Japanese learned in this era from us: Develop and conquer, or be conquered.

David Brin said...

Thanks Tony! (See below).

Der Oger one of the strangest aspects of the Pacific WWII was how almost everywhere native peoples and nationalities went to immense risk and suffering in order to fight for and along side their supposed colonial "oppressors." From the Philippines to Indonesia to Melanesia to Burma, the Japanese tried to sell that they were 'lberators" and proved otherwise within days.

In India and its diaspora there was an effort by Chandra Bose and others to raise an anti-British violent campaign. But it mostly fizzled. One has an impression they felt... independence is pretty much inevitable so let's stay friends with the Brits and yanks. This was NOT so in Indochina, where the French were deemed collaborators with the Japanese and co-oppressors.... and it is a huge tragedy that we rejected Ho.

Der Oger I don't think you understood my proposal.

While we’re at it, adjusting my own page ( might be nice and overdue. Though there will be a lot more changes when my newsletter comes out, in a month! Help with that would be appreciated!

*Brin is a member of the External Advisory Council of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC).

Links to Existence
And The Ancient Ones.
And Insistence of Vision.

David Smelser said...


Suppose I give my money to baker, is that money still mine? Or is the baker free to do with it as they want?

Doesn't that logic also apply when I give my money to the government?

David Brin said...

DS except you voted your stock membership to have a say in the board of directors of the bakery. And this baker is required by law to use your money in some way in your general interest. Oh and the baker can put you in jail, if you don't pay.

No, the thing about taxes is entirely a matter of pragmatic outcomes. So long as it is done transparently and we all can make our cases openly to persuade our neighbors to spend more on this and less on that, based on evidence, I will stand by the firm evidence that the general approach taken by the US across the 1st half of its pax... progressive taxation and spending toward maintaining peace and generally benevolent non-mercantilist trade structures and expanding the reification of talent among poor children and building universities and infrastructure... HAD THE BEST OUTCOMES vs. any other system across all of human history.

Deviations from that geneal outline - especially Supply Side boosting of aristocracy and incitement of civil war - have seriously degraded those outcomes.

If we return to accelerated outcomes in those and related categories - including Hollywood-prepeled memes of citokate - then society and the planet will fill with smart, educated, empowered young people with vastly more sophisticated computer models based on vastly more facts and made more error resistant by CITOKATE. And those new generations will make their own, better-informed arrangements. MY PRIMARY JOB is a pragmatic one of helping to achieve that result and that hand-off to better generations.

Crude and blunt as it may be, the Rooseveltean socail contract is the one that took us in that direction faster than any other. And hell yes, I will pay those taxes.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I get your anger, but watch out for how you obligate all our children, cousins, etc to pay it all back.

In the 1980s, I was totally on your side regarding debt. "We'll have to pay this back" was an article of faith.

The fact that it hasn't happened in the interceding 35 or so years makes me wonder.* I'm not as sure as I used to that international finance works the same way that a household budget does. My household can't create money without someone either paying it to me or lending it to me, the latter obligating me to return it with interest. The US government can create money just by wishing it. Doing so is constrained by real-world consequences, such as inflation. If those real-world consequences don't happen, though, then they've pulled off a magic trick.

* Fully congnizant of the joke about falling off a 50 story building and thinking "Well, nothing bad has happened to me yet." I didn't say I'm convinced there will not be consequences--just that I'm no longer convinced that there are.

You don't just zing the people who anger you.

Again, fully cognizant of Dave Sim's admonition that, while women might be attracted to very attractive men who are also abusive, that doesn't imply that un-attractive men can successfully court those women by being abusive. Still, the urge is overwhelming to respond to "You just don't (whatever)", with "It sure seems to work well for Republicans when they do it."

Duncan Ocel said...

@Alfred, TCB:
I don't understand why MMT is so partisanized that it rarely even falls within the scope of focus of Democrats, let alone RASRs. Most of the arguments against Modern Monetary Theory have seemed to add up to "I don't think it would work" or "money shouldn't be used in this way" (I'm looking at you, Krugman). These faith/value based arguments are worthless; the best way to disprove MMT would be to give it a try. We gave Supply-Side thirty years to consistently disprove itself; might as well give MMT thirty (or even ten) to win over every moderate, liberal, and conservative who works for a living and those who can't. The leftists are already on board...

For those not familiar with MMT core tenets:
1. Money represents a debt taken on by the currency issuer; every dollar printed represents a dollar of federal debt. Federal debt is not a problem; without it there would be no money in circulation.
2. Inflation is not tied 100% to the printing of money. When existing infrastructure is not used at full capacity, it can be brought to full capacity (100% employment) through printed money (new federal debt) without damaging purchasing power. Only when the fed prints money in excess of full employment does purchasing power decline.
3. Incurring federal debt for projects like highways, free education, research, entrepreneurship end up increasing the production capacity and growing the economy vastly more than the dollar tag on the new debt incurred.

I'm sick of Keynes' legacy being discounted without serious argument, and certainly without a decade-long "college try."

Larry Hart said...

David Smelser:

Suppose I give my money to baker, is that money still mine? Or is the baker free to do with it as they want?

Doesn't that logic also apply when I give my money to the government?

I should probably just sit back and let Alfred answer.

The obvious theoretical difference is that you give the baker your money in fair exchange for goods and/or services provided. You get the cake (or whatever) and in exchange you give up a certain amount of money to him. It's his money now.

Government relief is not "in exchange for" anything. They're just giving you money. So in theory, that money can have conditions, such as "You may only spend this money on food." I believe Alfred perceives an implied condition which is something along the lines of, "Don't make me sorry I gave this money to you."

My counter argument is that the behavior of the banks and financial institutions (and the fact that they were allowed to behave that way without consequence) sets a precedent (if it wasn't set already) that there are no implied conditions related to government relief. If we can't tell Wells Fargo what to do with "it's own" money after We The People bail them out, then no one can tell me what to do with "my own" money after I'm bailed out. In fact, I'd argue that the implied condition that we're bailing them out for a reason, and that there is a subsequent expectation that they not screw over their customers while paying themselves bonuses moreso than that there is an expectation that COVID relief not be donated to politicians who some taxpayers don't like.

David Brin said...

My arguments against MMT theory is simple. MMT fans are proposing that ALL families and nations across the last 6000 years, who tried to engage in fiscal responsibility, were wrong.

That may be so, but it plants the burden of proof squarely at MMT proponents' feet. Now it's true that Kaynsianism has positive outcomes correlations, in that money-printing can be an important palliative stimulus in hard times... and hence we agree that major printings are called for right now... along with ending the vast flows into the open maws of oligarchic parasites.

But Keynsians keep an eye open for limits on the printing presses and paying down debt during good times. MMT is not Keynsian, it is a religion of free money. And one should look at the Zimbabwean currency I have denominated in $Z 100Billion. And 1920s Germany leading to Nazism.

duncan cairncross said...

I'm still convinced that Robert Heinlein had the correct idea

Money should reflect the economy - so if we make the economy larger then we can and should increase the money supply

This was NOT an open ended "just print more" - but a balanced approach that makes a lot more sense than either of the extremes of

Taxes and expenditure should balance
Just print as much money as you want

If you look at the situation with those eyes most if not all of the "National Debt" simply disappears - the economy has grown by that much

The 6000 years when families and nations engaged in fiscal responsibility were CORRECT as during that period the amount of actual growth was small

Since about 1700 we have been growing - a LOT faster than in the past

Keith Halperin said...

@Everyone: re: Economics: WTF!
It's 2021- why is the world still debating economic theories? Is there something inherently fuzzy or chaotic about economics, or will "vastly more sophisticated computer models based on vastly more facts" allow us to create and implement realistic policies, whatever they may be? In either case, can't we at least agree on a generally accepted sense of guiding principles such as what objectively constitutes an outcome, however it may be interpreted? ("These policies lead to a an overall increase in output and an increase in income inequality." "That's good!" "No, that's bad.") Can economists at least get rid of the concept of "Homo Economicus, the *Rational Actor"? ISTM that CITOKAKE is meaningless if you can't even agree on what "error" is.

*Along such lines, I'd like to get rid of the concept of "rationality" as being a dominant psychological state in people, and make it more of a "Newtonian"-type subset of overall human psychology: "~1/3 of the time we're asleep, ~40% of our waking time we're operating habitually, and even when we think we're able to calmly, objectively, and logically evaluate thing- we're deciding based on inherent cognitive biases."

David Smelser said...


I'm talking about the money we give to the government as taxes. There is a frame in which the money given to the government is still "my money" but we don't say that about money given to other entities. That is what I'm questioning.

"I don't like how the government spends MY dollars" isn't the same thing as "I don't like how the government spends THEIR dollars."

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Keith

In economics you need to look at who benefits - and that overwhelms any rational answers

Supply Side - the idea that the "limiting factor" is the supply of capital
For 6,000 years that was the situation
Then in the 1700's the "Stock Market" appeared - now 10,000 peasants could each put 10 guineas into a pot and build a factory
Supply Side - died there and then

But its still being touted to this day

Larry Hart said...

David Smelser:
I'm talking about the money we give to the government as taxes. There is a frame in which the money given to the government is still "my money" but we don't say that about money given to other entities. That is what I'm questioning.

Ok. But there's still a difference.

"I don't like how the government spends MY dollars" isn't the same thing as "I don't like how the government spends THEIR dollars."

You used the example of buying a product from a baker, in which case you wouldn't later concern yourself with how the baker spends "your" money.

But what about a charitable organization. If you donate money to a charity which ostensibly feeds hungry children, but turns out to be funding Donald Trump's re-election PAC, wouldn't you say something like, "I don't like how the 'charity' spends MY dollars." Even if you worded it as "I don't like how they spend THEIR dollars", you'd still have a point in a way that you would not concerning the baker.

Government resembles the charity more than it resembles the baker. We The People tacitly agree to pay taxes as a price of having a government, but without claiming the right to micromanage spending, we are somewhat justified in complaining about waste, fraud, and abuse in the budget.

Just sayin'. Because I think I'm on your side of the argument, so I'm just talking about semantics here.

Larry Hart said...

One thing jim needn't worry about...

One of the more contentious issues in the new coronavirus relief bill is who should get the $1,400 checks. Some Democrats and a number of Republicans wanted to lower the cutoff above which people wouldn't get payments. In the previous bill, single people making up to $75,000 and married couples making up to $150,000 got the maximum payment, with phaseouts above that.

Meet the new rule, same as the old rule. In other words, everyone who was eligible for a full payment in the previous rounds of payments will be eligible for a full payment in the upcoming one. Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has spoken. Suburban couples making $100,000 to $150,000 in the past tended to vote Republican and that is precisely the group Democrats are trying to woo. Telling them that they are rich and don't deserve any help is probably not a great way to go about it. Of course, when the bill hits the House floor, there could be attempts to amend it. However, given the Democrats' extremely narrow majority, if they don't stick together, they won't get a bill.

Keith Halperin said...

@Everybody: a "kinda, sorta" CITOKAKE @ Twitter.
It's called "Birdwatch" but I'll call it "TWITOCAKE".
After around 3:15 a law professor who studies technology pointed out that it's hard to verify the truth if people can't agree on what it is. I maintain that besides agreeing on *what the truth is, we should consider both how- and for what purpose it is presented to us.


*Implicitly: how is this decided and who gets to decide it (and why should we trust them)?

Robert said...

Duncan, it sounds like you are espousing social credit (or a similar system)?

At least one of Heinlein's early novels included a fairly detailed explanation of it. (Maybe For Us the Living?)

David Brin said...

Keith, most civs answered your question with "Truth is what the experts say it is.

We now know that was a fallacy leading to vast error and tragedy and that slowed progress to a crawl. While they might have been good at predicting when the Nile would flood, cabals of high priests were a bane upon civilization. We now know that "Just because someone knows a lot and is smart, that doesn't make em wise."

Alas, things have gone too far in over-reaction. Our new habit to oppose bullying by expertise has been perverted into a toxic reflex pormulgated by Fox and the entire Mad Right... and some quarters of the left:

"Just because someone knows a lot and is smart, that automatically makes em unwise."

Which is, of course, insane. And yet, how do we combat the current all-out slander war against every fact-using or expert caste, and not look like we're establishing a centralized Ministry of Truth?

What's needed is a sliding scale of Burden of Proof! We start by siccing 'experts' against each other and watching them debate with varied evidence. (And our species never creating more COMPETITIVE creatures than scientists.) But when the experts do settle on a model that works. or a paradigm consensus, that model deserves some tentative cred! And that consensus puts a major Burden of Proof on those proclaiming "All the experts are wrong!"

Yes, sometimes - very rarely - all experts in a field coalesce upon a consensus that later proves wrong! Brave rebels should be protected and even (somewhat) subsidized. CITOKATE. Criticism is the only known antidote to error.

But when it comes to basing POLICY DECISIONS on the warnings issued by experts - as in climate change - it is the rebels who bear the burden of proof, and not the 99% of experts issuing warnings! It is simply insane to ignore the warnings... or models of the world... crafted by competitively vigorous and deeply knowledgable savants, just because someone shouts "I don't believe that!"

Alas, I have just made several points that I've seen NO ONE else offer, amid all the hand wringing about the War on Science,

Keith Halperin said...

Thanks Dr. Brin. I agree that CITOKAKE is a good approach, and it may be the best approach to policy making, but I far it may be more limited in scope than you do.
Here's why:
1) Except for some things ("If I drop a bowling ball directly above my right foot, my right foot is likely to hurt.") there are many results without clear "yes or no" answers, and to paraphrase what Dr. Kahneman says: "People are lousy dealing with probabilities."
2) Furthermore, even if the result can be agreed upon, the interpretations of the meaning of the result (and subsequent actions) can greatly vary. ("I should move my foot." "I should wear safety shoes." "I should put down the bowling ball.")
3) Additionally, how do we take into account of the inherent biases of both the presenters and the presentees, and how these biases will affect the presentation?
4) Also, who determines the validity of a given expert and who grants it to them?
5) Finally, in a democratic society, what do we do if (in an important policy decision) the "experts" are (by any definition) right, but the "people" will not do and cannot be persuaded to do what is needed? I'll give you an example:
It's 2067, and a large and respected interdisciplinary team of researchers have shown after a careful, multi-year study that the Ross Ice Shelf has a 45% +/-10% chance of collapsing within the following 5 years, leading to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet sliding into the ocean and raising sea levels 5m in a very short period of time. The research team recommends the immediate start of a 2021 USD $50T program to prevent/minimize harm. Do you think that a majority of the population of the democratic countries would readily and willingly support such an expenditure (if they're like our current population)?

David Brin said...

Alas Keith, you talk around my posting, yet shrug off absolutely the core idea, that classic modes of expertise will serve fine as a baseline if we find a middle ground between respect for knowledge and suspicion of domination by authority.

You ignored my point about a sliding scale of burden of proof, where competition AMONG elites is encouraged, but those aspects whtt win high degrees of subsequent consensus get to inform policy while subjected to continuing citokate that bears the burden of proof.

Look at how you threw out there an unmodified, un criticized $50T meme that emerged from no process but rather from some "news" article and some small group's unvetted or misquoted -- but satisfyingly lurid -- statement.

Your points are specifically... especially #4... just blithe polemical shrugs and if I paid you to answer them, YOU could answer them.

Alas, your obduracy plainly illustrates my point, that even the possibility of finding a sensible middle ground seems impossible to most people.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin: I guess I was unclear.

1) "...if we find a middle ground between respect for knowledge and suspicion of domination by authority." AGREED that is good. If we CAN find/define a middle ground, who will establish that and how will that middle ground be made fairly stable?

2) "..a sliding scale of burden of proof, where competition AMONG elites is encouraged," also AGREED that this sounds like a viable technique to me, as long as there are:
a) Legitimate and transparent means of establishing the elite's legitimacy (subject to stakeholder input)
b) Mechanisms for preventing elite *ossification
c) Countervailing measures to prevent elite consolidation and concentration
In other words, I advocate the same measures to create and maintain a fair and competitive market of ideas that I advocate for a a fair and competitive market of goods and services.

3) Hypothetical 2067 Scenario- I may have inadequately described what I meant:
Instead of a lurid meme brought up by some obscure group, I meant to describe the recommendation of a highly respected, professionally exceptional research group, something like a 2067 ICCC or NAS report with those recommendations for quick, expensive action.

You may have discussed the following in detail in "Transparency" and "Polemical Judo":
1) What actions could have been performed to prevent the current sub-optimum situation ("War on Science")? and
2) After the current situation is improved and stabilized through the actions you've proposed, what needs to be done to make sure the pattern ("Science is Great" then "War on Science") doesn't repeat itself?

In summary, I AGREE with your premises- I just feel there are more details needing to be worked out, qualifications/limitations of the premises considered, and unintended consequences explored. (Think of me as a type of editor.)



*My experience is that organizations across a wide spectra tend to reflect the views and interests of the founders throughout the course of their involvement and this tends to cause ossification unless an active, ongoing effort is made to bring in and empower "new blood".

David Brin said...

Keith we are talking past each other with utter futility. I well-understand all of your points and your seem totally unwilling to consider my main one... that you ILLUSTRATE the shrugge "what'cha gonna do" acceptance of he impossibility of a civilization of goodwill and some sanity to adapt to sliding scales of burden of proof EXACTLY AS OUR PARENTS DID.

It doesn't seem to occur to you that science already does this, arguing vehemently under rules of evidence that simply WORK 99.9 % of the time... keeping the debate lively while there's ambiguity, but coalescing toward consensus when evidence mounts.

There are other "disputation arenas" and I went into them in great detail in my disputaion paper... which ironically was mentioned in this recent article.

Courts have an error rate and injustices happen, even scandalously. But the error rates are very low because of prim, meticulous rules of adversarial evidence presentation plus burden of proof falling on the accuser. These are concepts that OUGHT to be even remotely familiar to a smart guy like you. But instead you repeat that "who is going to decide what's tru?" nostrum over and over and over again.

Likewise the WAGER thing actually works, because it is the last place where a good old MAGA boy admits there must be such a thing as objective reality and judges qualified to rule on it... and hence their utter panic when you try to make them bet.

I am NOT accusing you of fanaticism or even illogic. What I accuse you of is giving up on a problem that our parents actually dealt with (as cavemen) pretty well and we might, yet again.

Der Oger said...

Dr. Brin, on the Pacific War: No doubt many indigenous people ended up hating the Japanese even more ... or actually being true and committed allies to the Allied Forces. But what I am trying to say is that there is a direct line of cause and effect from the "Black Ships" of Commodore Perry to Pearl Harbor and the atrocities committed in their occupied territories. There are other contributing factors, but the shame of defeat of 1854 might be one of the more important.

On your "Directed Taxes" model: I had several ideas how to play with the system for maximum carnage.

Let's say we have billionaires A and B.

Billionaire A uses his directed tax as a club or a hammer: He has certain demands for each department, and directs it to the most cooperative department. He may even buy other people's directed tax rights, or forms a platform/alliance/network of like-minded people.

Billionaire B sells his directed tax rights to the highest bidder ... and by selling them, generates new taxes with rights to sell ... and so on. He may sell them to the actual head of the government, to influencers like billionaire A, and to foreign players like Iran or Russia.

David Brin said...

Der Oger... your statement suggests to me that you know nothing at all about Commodore Perry's expedition, which was a peerless example of stunning competence and firm but reasonable diplomacy that did Japan immense good and zero harm.

Alfred Differ said...

David Smelser,

Others have already chimed in and covered how I would have responded. I'd add only that there is a difference between 'voluntary' and 'voluntary with no implied harsh conditions if it doesn't happen'.

When you deal with the baker, you can choose NOT to transact as long as they aren't the only source of food for you.

Not paying taxes is a little worse than that, though. The baker can't toss you in jail for not transacting with them.


"Don't make me sorry I gave this money to you."

Heh. Sorta. I appeal more to the people (like you) who authorize the giving. "Don't make me sorry I agreed to side with you."

On the difference between national debt and personal debt… they aren't the same. People who draw that analogy are mistaken, but only on one particular point. YOU may not print your own legal tender. If you could, then your debt would be rather similar to a sovereign's debt.

Because you cannot print your own money, you are forced to rely on banks to monetize your assets and receivables. THEY can print money in the form of corporate paper, borrow reserves from people like you and then lend them out in highly leveraged scenarios, and even borrow from the government. YOU can't because it has been made illegal.

"It sure seems to work well for Republicans when they do it."

Yah, but you have a soul. Right?


Money should reflect the economy - so if we make the economy larger then we can and should increase the money supply

Agreed, but I don't think it should be the government printing money anymore. Too much centralization of power.

Alfred Differ said...


re: Economics: WTF!
It's 2021- why is the world still debating economic theories?

Heh. My off-the-cuff response is a hairball.

We debate them because some of them are strikingly similar to geocentric astronomy notions (there was more than one) while others propose to solve problems that are inherently unsolvable. Literally unsolvable. I don't care how much computing power you have.

Then there are the ones that propose we aren't human when we trade. Rational actors? Ha!

Then there are ones that propose the existence of a grand equation on which we can know many of the input variables even if we don't know the actual equation. That state equation's exist, though, is enough for us to assume(!) it is differentiable(!!!) in some of those variables allowing us to construct locally, linear approximations we imagine(!) as fodder for equilibrium solutions.

Some of these overlap, of course. Like Brahe's cosmology… bits of pieces of a bit of plagiarism.

As Bill the Cat would say…


Alfred Differ said...

Der Oger,

Commodore Perry was rude for sure, but not anything much worse.

Their descent into the madness that peaked with the war is best explained without Perry. Perhaps Future Shock is more descriptive. They faced the very real fact that they weren't what they believed they were and then didn't handle it well.

We didn't handle them not handling it well either, but we were NOT an old empire with a great deal of knowledge baked into our institutions about past screw-ups and how to handle them. Still… we didn't do too bad. We only nuked them twice, burned a few other cities, and built our own concentration camps. If that sounds snarky, note we did NOT commit genocide. Most of their deaths were military. (2 million out of about 2.5 million). We also learned a few lessons and tried to bake them into our institutions. McArthur's treatment of them is an example.

Der Oger said...

Dr. Brin: While I made no comment on Commodore Perrys competence or character, I'd say "immense good and zero harm" was not the goal of his mission; it was forcing Japan, a then-agrarian and seemingly inferior culture, to submit to his will. And while it lacks some of the attributes the European powers have sported in Africa (overt racism, de facto slavery), it was colonialism in all of its beauty.

What was surprising (and unforeseeable for Perry and his ilk) how fast and thoroughly Japan would change during the following years, going from a feudal agrarian to an industrialized imperialistic society in mere decades. They became colonialist themselves because we showed them how to divide up the world.

Keith Halperin said...

@Dr. Brin: will address, clarify later.
Meanwhile, good news:
Dozens of former Republican officials in talks to form anti-Trump third party
Read in Reuters:

Dozens of former Republican officials, who view the party as unwilling to stand up to former President Donald Trump and his attempts to undermine U.S. democracy, are in talks to form a center-right breakaway party, four people involved in the discussions told Reuters.
YAY, Splitters!

Duncan Ocel said...

If by "firm but reasonable" you mean using threats of violence and ample machismo to force a nation to change their entire foreign policy, then you're right. Yes, there is much to be said of the benefits brought to Japan by entering the fold, it was a strong bit of hazing that secured the treaty.

David Brin said...

What's depressing is when a person who should have mental agility is told that a very shallowly based assumption - in this case a cartoon cliche image of Commodore Perry's expedition to Japan - is top-to-bottom false... when being told that leads NOT to curiosity ("Really? Now that's interesting. Maybe I should look into it!") But rather to a doubling down upon the comfy assumption.

I read the entire mission report by Perry, cover to cover... in an original copy of his 3 volume, leather bound report to Congress... and books about the expedition etc. The standard carricature isn't just untrue. It is DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSITE to true.

Yes, Perry intended to have an outcome of prying Japan more open to the world. American sailors were being shipwrecked and either enslaved or not allowed to leave. And a coaling and rescue station in Japanese waters - owned and run by Japan -would make the world better all around and be profitable to Japan. But Perry made ZERO threats. The only cannons he fired were in salute.

He did steam upwind into harbor and utterly ignored the yells of local and mid-level officials to go away. And yes, his restrained power was impressive... so much so that soon the Meiji emperor and reformers decided it was time to engage and catch up by ending the mostly brutally toglodytic aspects of Daimyo feudalism.

But Perry was utterly gracious when a potentate of proper rank finally showed up and he poured gifts upon the nearby beach including a midget railway that all the samurai and court officials gleefully rode day and night.

There is no conceivable way to call it colonialist aggression, just as Anson Burlingame - Lincoln's ambassador to Peiping - was China's only friend, denouncing and often preventing Euro-russo-Japanese raids and thefts. As discomforting as it may be to comfy modern self-flaggelating clichés, some of them just ain't necessarily so.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"It sure seems to work well for Republicans when they do it."

Yah, but you have a soul. Right?

Yes, but sometimes, I envy the Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired character on The Simpsons who responded to the question, "How do you sleep at night?" with, "On satin sheets with many beautiful ladies."

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

[Japan] became colonialist themselves because we showed them how to divide up the world.

For anyone who hasn't see it already, this "History of Japan" cartoon is worth the while:

"Why don't we do it anyway?"

Keith Halperin said...

@ Der Oger: Re: "Directed Taxes" model:
“I had several ideas how to play with the system for maximum carnage.”
I like how you think. ISTM that as we have “Software Quality Assurance” (SQA) to test software for bugs, we need something like “Idea Quality Assurance” (IQA) where besides checking for errors (CITOKAKE), we work to consider how good ideas may be limited in their scope/applicability, obsolesce over time, get damaged or decay, be liable to attack, or “weaponized” to do things counter to their original intent.

This brings me back to CITOKAKE, Dr. Brin.
It is very clear we are talking at each other and missing what the other is saying.
I am fully aware that the many of my questions e.g., “Who is an expert, etc.?” have long been answered/decided. My point is that the decided-upon answers to these questions may/may not still be optimal, and the questions should be asked again.
I'll now state what I BELIEVE about CITOKAKE and drop the subject from there.
1) is a beneficial approach for solving many types of human problems/questions and has led to a flourishing and enrichment of the lives of billions of people.
2) has been under attack for some time, its general acceptance appears to have diminished (the “War on Science”), and this is a negative situation.
3) is a human-derived technique, and as such should be continuously re-examined by stakeholders to improve it, clarify and potentially expand its applicability, and make it more robust using kaizen and meta-CITOKAKE.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Larry Hart: So fun! Sorta like "Drunk History".
My late father-in-law (never met him) was a POW throughout WW II.
(He was on Wake Island.) He was horribly treated, but didn't hate the Japanese people.
I wonder about the Japanese people: after all they've done and gone through successfully, will they geezerize themselves into near-oblivion?

TCB said...

I saw a lovely video a little while back: Japanese Castaway Gives First Description of USA (1852) // Incredible Story of John Manjiro

The tale, in brief: In 1841, five Japanese fishermen were blown far from home in a storm and shipwrecked on an island. Rescued by an American whaler, they were taken to Hawaii. They remained there, but Manjiro, the youngest, went to New Bedford with the ship's kindly captain to be educated. (Here follows an very idealized description of the wondrous Americans, hahahahah). Manjiro was eventually able to sail to California in the wake of the Gold Rush, traveling also on a 'steam boat' and a 'rail road'. There Manjiro earned enough money in ten weeks to book passage to Hawaii and home to Japan. One had died, one stayed, and two returned with Manjiro to Japan in 1852 with a world map and accounts of their adventures. After interrogation, they spent three days in jail and were sent home with a lifelong stipend and orders never to set sail again. The world map was far better than any Japan had, and Manjiro translated the place names from English. He received honors for this service.

Nut long after, Commodore Perry arrived... and the locals did have some idea of what to expect.

P.S. Holy frijoles, according to Wikipedia, Perry recommended the US annex Formosa. Gentlemen, start your alternate-history engines!

Larry Hart said...

How do they do it??? Republicans have even co-opted the "guillotines" argument, as if they are the peasants and we are the aristocrats in that scenario. Maybe Trump was right that they've been winning so much they're sick of winning.

In the same broadcast, the host reminded his listeners that “hundreds and hundreds” of people had claimed to have witnessed fraud or irregularities in the election. “People feel like their voices aren’t being heard, and they’re angry,” Mr. Hannity said.

He then welcomed a frequent caller to the show, the pro-Trump activist Rose Tennent, who offered no criticism of the violence in Washington.

“At some point, people break,” Ms. Tennent said.

David Brin said...

Yeah TCB I always found Manjior's story fascinating.

How interesting that the Mayflower Pilgrims came ashore and found not one but TWO very different locals who had been to sea and had been to England, just from the local tribe. There was a lot of interaction before formal 1st contacts.

Alfred Differ said...

Japan didn't have to be shown how to divide up the world. It's just that they realized others were and they'd either get nothing or be among the divided spoils.

Perry was from Rhode Island. It would be an interesting list to create with the names of people from that state who actually advocated for colonialism. From southern states I rather expect it. Not so much from further NE.

duncan cairncross said...

One of the issues I find with legislation is that the split between

Legislation - which is "leading"

And Regulation - which is actual "rules"

Is underappreciated

The legislature should be the "leaders" - and their "Legislation" should be short and ALLWAYS start with a "Purpose Statement"

Then the next level down should be the actual legislation - which should be written by the Bureaucrats

Which also means that it can very easily be amended -
simply by referencing the Higher level Legislation and especially the "Purpose Statement"
And that can and should be done without going back to the Legislature

David Brin said...

Another point I never understood... how folks who say "Perry forced Japan to open under gun point" actually envision that happening? I mean... um? Three steamships steam upwind into Edo harbor, and yeah, they're pretty impressive... and they ... 'force'... anyone to do anything?

Andy said...

I'm no expert, but a quick read through the "Threat of force and negotiation" section of the Wikipedia article on the Perry Expedition seems pretty detailed and damning.,_1852%E2%80%931853

Andy said...

Ahh, I didn't see your earlier more detailed comment before posting mine. I guess it seems to me that Perry clearly did make threats of force, which caused the Japanese to acquiesce, but those threats were justified and commensurate to the situation?

David Brin said...

"I'm no expert, but a quick read through the "Threat of force and negotiation" section of the Wikipedia article on the Perry Expedition seems pretty detailed and damning."

It's a joke! Seriously? You expect anything else these days, when the ONLY fashionable position is full dump blame for colonialism?

Again, I have read stuff a lot more reliable than a fashionably trendy wikipedia article. Like original sources. Not only did Perry not coerce anybody or use any violence... it is stunningly illogical to even assert that he somehow coerced MILLIONS OF SAMURAI without firing a shot? And coerce them to do what? To let the US send 3 diplomats to a little village to sit and stew between yearly meetings and allow a coaling and rescue station to be set up, operated profitably by armed samurai?

Oh and don't get me started on samurai... just about the nastiest kind of feudal killer-lords. 20 years after Perry and BECAUSE of Perry, the Meiji emperor was able to half-end that dismal era. Alas, only half and the other half would lead to horrible pain before it went away. Mostly, on the surface at least.

It is entirely un-PC to ever admit that any US interaction with non-Euro peoples can ever have been competent, peaceful or helpful with good intent and outcomes. But this case... and Burlingame... are on a level of San Francisco renaming LINCOLN High School because old Abe was a racist oppressor. I call utter, utter and completely total - without any reservations - bullshite.

Der Oger said...

@Alfred Differ: "Perry was from Rhode Island. It would be an interesting list to create with the names of people from that state who actually advocated for colonialism. From southern states I rather expect it. Not so much from further NE."

Colonialism was a complex philosophy, and it differed in outlook from country to country. It can be broken down to three major motivations: as a symbol of national accomplishment, as a source of cheap labor and resources, and for military/strategic purposes. As for the US, I see mostly the last reason as a driving factor.

Also, for some countries, colonialism was a *progressive* movement - while the conservatives balked at the idea of having to dedicate troops and resources to foreign shores. From what I can discern from his biography, Perry was a rather progressive guy when it came to technology and development of naval warfare.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

...on a level of San Francisco renaming LINCOLN High School because old Abe was a racist oppressor.

That kind of thing (see "Defund the police!") make me think that a segment of the Democratic coalition actively sabotages any attempt we have at winning hearts and minds. Like the fabled Palestinians, we apparently don't miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

There are more than sufficient examples to bypass happenstance and coincidence and go directly to enemy action.

Larry Hart said...

commedian John Fugelsang tweets the obvious:

David Schoen reminds you that you're disenfranchising 74 million voters if you won't let the Trump & the @GOP disenfranchise 81 million voters.

Robert said...

I have read stuff a lot more reliable than a fashionably trendy wikipedia article. Like original sources. Not only did Perry not coerce anybody or use any violence...

Well, in Perry's report he says that…

What do Japanese original sources from the period say? Do they corroborate Perry's account?

Because in the principle of CITOKATE, relying on an accused's testimony to exonerate him seems like taking a 'not guilty' plea at face value.

Der Oger said...

Dr. Brin: The misunderstanding is: I don't judge Perrys character or competence, I just say, he did what he did, and his actions had consequences. Colonialism and Gunboat Diplomacy were policies of the 19th and early 20th century, and vestiges of it remain to this day (carrier group, anyone?). I will even admit that the US treated his colonies far better for the most of the time, though not as equals in political representation. (Another theme that holds on to this day.)

And if you think through it, it could have gotten worse for Japan: If the US had not intervened, the English might, and the Russians surely would have. While it would have made WWII shorter, imagine how history would have changed if Japan had become a Soviet satellite state. Or it could have become a state embroiled in constant civil strife between traditionalists, progressives supported by the various colonial and later Allied forces, and communists. Most certainly it would still be an agrarian- to early industrial society, like Vietnam, and not the economic powerhouse it is today.

As for seemingly minor events having huge consequences: There are a lot of them, like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Ems Dispatch, a white cop strangling an Afro-American to death or a bat infecting a pangolin on a chinese food market. But for the most part, they tend to accelerate a situation that was already in the development. I assume that a similar situation was already unfolding in the Shogunate, the Black Ships being only the domino tile that needed to fall.

Keith Halperin said...

Re: SF Renaming schools: AGREED that it's BS and a waste of time.
(I'm a San Franciscan.) If schools need to be renamed, here are some proposals:
1) Numbers (as in NYC): PS 1, etc.
2) After the mascot (in SF they're all after animals; some places still need a bit of help with this): Raven, Bulldog, Ram, Pirate, etc.
3) Naming rights (as with stadiums/stadia): wealthy individuals/corps could have schools named after them for a period of 6 years (K-5), 3 years (Middle school) or 4 years (High school). They get to pick from a category of schools (where there are multiple ones) as opposed to a particular school unless they want to pay a high premium: David Brin High School, Qualcomm Elementary, etc.

David Brin said...

KH good idea re animal names, but theSJWs won't miss any opportunity to tweak universally eeeeevil white males, so expect AngelaDavis High School real soon. And frankly? I don't mind! Our side's version of MAGA madness controls a few hundred university soft studies departments and a couple dozen city councils. That's not civilization's biggest danger. (Alas, neither are they much help, giving Hannit anecdotes and excuses to scream "ALL liberals are like THAT!")

Alas, those rabidly PC soft studies depts include history departments where many fundamental facts are those most hated and repressed

- That the America Pax has been the best time ever - judged entirely by outcomes - for eliminating child poverty across 6000 years and for liberating women.

- Tht the values they espouse... equality + gender/racial tolerance... were NEVER pormulgated by the "victim" nations they extoll but are almost entirely inventions of the propaganda system they were raised under -- Hollywood. Hence in a sense, they are aggressive chauvinists.

- That this evil empire remains overwhelmingly popular; that during WWII native peoples almost universally fought for Brit and Yank "colonial opporessors" and the peoples of Eastern Europe fled to NATO as fast as they could.

- That many historical tales about colonialism are true horror stories... MOST are!... though they look more normal compared to what was previously normal among empires of every color during the vast darkness... Ask a Nahuatle what she thinks, even today, of Aztecs.
There will neer be any rose colored excuse for Leopold's Congo or Germany's Namibia or the US Confederacy or Jim Crow. But that string of cautionary tales is not helped by outright lying about other tales wherein for the first time in ALL of human history, foreign relations featured the powerful acting ethically because they simply wanted to, as the right thing to do.

And I tell you now that any attempt to color Perry or Burlingame as 'oppressors" is an act of actual actual psychotic lying. The desperate clinging to a propagandized delusion that has ABSOLUTELY no basis in fact. And I repeat that. ABSOLUTELY no basis in fact.

David Brin said...

"What do Japanese original sources from the period say? Do they corroborate Perry's account? "

Generally they were favorable to Perry and there were statues to the US ambassafor who followed Perry that only came down in WWII

And so again I ask, how were three armed steamships, impressive as they were (and meant to be) going to "coerce" a nation with ten million SAMURAI warriors with rifles and cannons of their own into doing anything? Anything whatsoever? All they had to do was pull everyone back one mile and ignore Perry. And THAT was Perry's greatest fear!

Yes, those ships could have cut off Japanese trade... as the French routinely did to Mexico. But WHAT trade? The "concession" Perry sought was "start trading with us and make lots of money and get the cool things you see us demonstrating in your harbor and on the beach!"

Yes, his bold mission succeeded at rocking back the Shogunate with examples of powerful new things. They resonded correctly. The Manchu court in Peiping did not. And there's your history.


Oh, expand context. Manjiro told them about the US-Mexican War... And yes... that one was NOT America behaving well. And that story probably played a role in Meiji deciding he had better act.

Alfred Differ said...

duncan cairncross,

I agree on the need to understand that split better. I'd split one more time though.

There is a difference between legislation designed to raise taxes to pay for roads or the social safety net and legislation intended to recognize that certain behaviors are to be treated as crimes. The later is 'moral law' stuff. The former is 'law needed for the operation of government'.

Purpose statements are useful all around, though.

Der Oger,

Perry would have well understood that last driving factor. Annexing Formosa (for example) would have made naval sense. Geopolitically it would have been as big as annexing the Philippines by placing our boundary in the archipelago off the coast of of the oldest civilization on the planet.

Historically, we weren't all for colonial annexations. There was actual debate about Hawaii and how the behavior of some of us was unethical.

Anonymous said...

How typically progressive: To argue that US Colonialism (aka 'The Enlightened West') exploited, enslaved and subjugated foreign populations for their own good .

Amazingly, it's the very same 'It's for their own good' argument that has been used to justify the historical enslavement of the African race and the disenfranchisement of the modern Trump voter.


Keith Halperin said...

Thanks, Dr. Brin.
Personally, I think debating the legacy of dead people is a waste of time.
As "people"- they're a mixture of good and bad (with a few outlying exceptions), and as "dead"- they don't care.

My father (OBM) was a history professor; not much of a scholar but a very good teacher from what I saw from his student reviews and heard from his former students.
He said to go to the primary sources whenever possible.

Here's an account from the Japanese:
Here's the Treaty of Kanagawa:
Was it signed with or without coercion? Dunno.
Did it help or hurt the Japanese in the short run or the long run? Dunno.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know that those deplorable tent-dwelling Israelite sheep lovers were enslaved for their own good by those progressively urban & ultra-civilised Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt.

Pax Americana, Romana or Egyptica is an unmitigated good AT ANY PRICE, n'est pas?


David Brin said...

Withtypical stunning insanity and dishonesty, poor locum creates another strawan, spitting venom at stuff I enevr remotely said, and even said the opposite. Which means the third trait is simple, basic stoopidity.

OTOH KH asks questions. Alas, they are trivially answered: "Was it signed with or without coercion? Dunno."

Well anyone looking at the events duz-know. The whole 'coercion" thing is simply ridiculous. That anyone even remotely believes it not only ignores the records of both sides, but spectacularly insults the Japanese, who knew they could make Perry go away simply by ignoring him. And that is what he feared.

But he succeeded in showing them what many of tham were ALREADY ARGUING AT COURT! That the world was moving ahead and they could act while they still had time. And they did.

This is not a Fox News "You decide." Those saying "coercion" are simply wrong. Utterly wrong. Head in the sand wrong and obdurate.

David Brin said...

My interview with Rob McConnell on X-Zone syndicated radio... 2 hours ranging from AI to UFOs to meme-war... will air Friday night, February 11, 2021 at 10 pm Eastern - 7pm Pacific.
Tune in, it's fun!

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

poor locum creates another strawan, spitting venom at stuff I enevr remotely said, and even said the opposite.

I knew that before you did.

And I do not hear the words of traitors.

duncan cairncross said...


Re-"moral law" - often legislation is undertaken NOT to ban activities but to drive activities in a certain direction

The Germans have a high retail price for electricity in order to make efficiency projects more cost effective

legislation to impose a "Carbon Tax" - or a tax on alcohol or tobacco would be similar

IMHO the legislature should be open about the "Purpose"

This also applies to tax rates - high marginal tax rates (for instance) reduce "rent taking" and increase re-investment

I would say these are not "moral laws" - but pragmatic laws driving the economy in a desirable direction

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin. Thank you- now I "duno", not "dunno". :)

Re: your upcoming broadcast:
"Canadian Broadcaster, researcher, author, publisher, media personality, and inventor Rob McConnell, has been investigating the world of the paranormal and the science of parapsychology on The X Zone Radio Show since 1993 and is now broadcast Monday to Friday from 10 pm to 2 am Eastern and 7 pm to 11 pm Pacific."

This SHOULD be interesting (almost as interesting as the people who call in, if it's that type of program), and in light of your comments re: Locum/Anonymous:
"It's not what you don't say that counts, it's how you don't say it!"
Also, please don't forget to SPEAK IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS. :)

Break a leg (or whatever you say to folks who get interviewed)!

David Brin said...

KH thanks for taking my brusqueness with a sense of whimsey,

The radio show was prerecorded hence no callers.

We'll know how the trial will go when we see whether ten Gopper senators get "food poisoning' and stay home, letting the brave ten rid us of this horrid embarrassment.

Alfred Differ said...


I think your interpretation of 'moral law' as attempts to drive activities in a certain direction is a little generous. I certainly prefer it, but I think a lot of criminal law is really about punishment and retribution.

Think about penalty multipliers. 'Crack vs Cocaine' for example. Both are bad enough in how people wind up being willing to do things to feed their addictions, but that multiplier was pretty selective in who among us got hit worst.

There is also the point about when we write moral law. Often we do NOT until people become indignant about some people choosing not to respect a social norm. If 99.9% of people stick to a norm, the tiny number who do not are in danger and unlikely to find defenders. If only 99% do, the folks who don't might find defenders. If only 90% do… well… a social revolution is obviously underway and the evil-doers will be eating our children soon!

The reason I make the distinction between types of legislation is that a 'moral law' has no chance of being successfully enforced if it is not supported by a super-super-majority.

Der Oger said...

@Duncan Cairnross: "The Germans have a high retail price for electricity in order to make efficiency projects more cost effective"

Yes. A Kilowatt hour costs roughly three times more than in the US. But it is not only efficiency, it is also the type of energy used (focus on renewable energies, nuclear exit, planned coal exit). The use of electricity has dropped roughly by 10% since 2007, to 7,1 megawatt per person (compared to 12.8 in the US and not much change).

Which brings me to an interesting question: Could Kardashev become obsolete because we become more and more efficient with the energy we use?

And why do you use so much more electricity than we do? Can't be all based on air conditioning.

Der Oger said...

Finished the podcast. Read the short story.

On AI: What if there are, in a few decades, several competing AI with opposite agendas out there? Like, a warring pantheon of digital overlords, each with its own goals? Someone will need to create an "AI Police" or a "Digital Consciousness Regulation Agency" to deal with it...or a Turing Comission, like that one in Neuromancer.

Or what if AI are the technological bottleneck that destroyed other civilizations (or, at least, one of them, like nuclear power and environmental destruction)?
What could be a system of rewards and punishments for "raising" an AI?
What about AI that are "catched", are they imprisoned, modified or erased?
What do we do about predictive algorithms we already have, and we know to be biased?

On Surveillance/Sousveillance: For the majority of countries, the latter is incredibly dangerous, and the former is more and more common. Even countries like France and Germany take steps to hinder accountability of their security organs while simultanously getting more and more rights and tools, even in the face of catastrophic failures.

Perhaps a well-designed process of carrots and sticks might help. An agency that meets their target gets their budget increases and new tools, while an agency that has failures will get budget cuts or must spend their budget on training to become better.

David Brin said...

Der Oger you raised about a dozen questions each of which would take an hour to explore SHALLOWLY.
But the simplest answer is transparency.
If high AIs can see each other clearly, they will have the option of denouncing bad fellows with malevolent intent Their IQs may surpass ours, but we will still have a lot of power for a long time and will be able to tip the scales toward those who are friendlier and deliver positive sum outcomes.

Will that still be fraught with possible deceptions and trickery? Sure. As has ALWAYS been the case! But there are ZERO other proposed methods that stand even a remote chance of working.

What boggles me is I've been saying this for 25 years and it is the heart of the constitutional enlightenment... yet I cannot count the number of bright forlks who find it utterly non-intuitive.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I certainly prefer it, but I think a lot of criminal law is really about punishment and retribution.

I'm firmly on the side that laws in a free country should be concerned with preventing one person from harming another, not with policing what an individual does on his own. In the 1980s, I considered myself to be libertarian because of this one belief, back when I thought that that was what "libertarian" means.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin. Thanks.
"... a bit of whimsey"/"shot of whiskey"- both can be good in moderation.

I'm listening to the show, and am about halfway done.
You mentioned to the listeners and to us you're super busy ("Busiest time of my whole career" or similar) on about ~12 books, including 7-8 re-editions.
Are you at liberty to discuss the other books you're working on with us, or would you/your publisher have to kill us all if you did?

If I heard you correctly, you mentioned there are about 1T cameras.
From what I can find out, there are ~1G surveillance cameras worldwide ( and an estimated 45G cameras overall
by next year ( These folks seem to have trouble distinguishing "billion" from "trillion"). I'm not able to find out what percentage of cameras are IP, though.

Point of clarification: did you say that we should have GAI within ~35 years or so, and possibly less?

Also, I heard you say we have no signs of KIII civs anywhere around (Local Group, Virgo Super Cluster?). Implicitly, does that makes the Five Galaxies Civilization, aka, "The Five Gals" (not to be confused with the "The Five Guys" hamburger chain) an ~KII?
I assume the "Five Gals" are the Milky Way (Galaxy 2), the two "Maggies,"
"We are Galaxy 2."
"Who is Galaxy 1?"
"You are Galaxy 6."
"I am not a number! I am a free-floating collection of large quantities of stellar, planetary, and interstellar matter, both baryonic and dark."

Larry Hart said...

Benedict Donald unknowingly speaks the truth (but not the way he meant it)...

“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” he [Trump] wrote, echoing the final arguments of his lawyers in the Senate on Saturday.

All true, but not the "one party" he thinks that refers to.

Der Oger said...

Dr. Brin: "What boggles me is I've been saying this for 25 years and it is the heart of the constitutional enlightenment... yet I cannot count the number of bright forlks who find it utterly non-intuitive."

When someone continuously winds up at the same spot, one can suspect he/she runs in circles. So...

What step you could do differently than previously? Some suggestions:

- From what I have discerned, you go directly to persons with influence (say, billionaires and Democratic Party cadres) and describe being politely stonewalled. I'd imagine that these persons are in the positions they are because the society is as it is, and as such, have no need of changing their minds. They profit from "not-changing".
Which old allies need to be abandoned (at least, for a while)? Where you can find new allies?

- Also, it could be that you are the producer of brilliant ideas, but are unable to sell them properly.
Which traits of yours need to change, and which you won't sacrifice? Who is the ideal salesman for your ideas?

- What if your ideas and associated goals seem to be too vague or too hard to reach? Most people need Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic and Timed (SMART) goals to succeed, and many grassrooters start small, tangible, local projects.
So, what small, SMART thing you could start?
And there is GoFundMe. What is it you would rise money for?

- Perhaps some of your ideas and plans have a flaw that can be identified. Perhaps it is something you secretly know it is true, but you don't like the messenger or the way the message is presented.
What would that flaw be, and how you can recognize and adjust it?
How can you make your ideas more "intuitive"?

- Sometimes, we succeed at societal change without intending or recognizing it.
Is there something you can be proud of having already achieved? (I bet there is something. At least, having built this community.)

You need not answer these questions openly, but perhaps they help you to leave your circle.

Der Oger said...

Alfred Differ: "I certainly prefer it, but I think a lot of criminal law is really about punishment and retribution."

I'd say criminal law can have various underlying motivations beyond that:

- Suppressing political opposition or a specific group of voters;
- A method to generate cheap forced laborers;
- A method to generate profits with privately operated prisons;
- Generating votes for elections;
- Protection for the general population;
- Deterrence;
- Reparation;
- Rehabilitation/Therapy of Offenders;
- Reintegration of Offenders into society;
- Education/Vocational Training of Offenders.

It is exactly what your society wants it to be.

scidata said...

@Larry Hart re sad commentary: it's called projection

Speaking of which (smooth seque), there's been some chat on ACM about entangled holography. The reference and object beams are not simply phase-shifted, but actually entangled (far greater resolution).

Robert said...

Manjiro told them about the US-Mexican War

So it wasn't just three steamships, then. It was three steamships from an expansionist country with a record of going to war to support the expansion. There's an implied threat there.

Knowing about Manjiro* (which I didn't) actually weakens your argument that Perry's force couldn't have achieved change by military threats.

The little I know of the Meiji Restoration seems to have a vibe of 'modernize quickly before we are turned into a colony' — a belief that the world was divided into colonizers and colonized, and it was better to be the first than the second.

All of which is orthoganal to whether it was a good thing or not. I tend to be extremely leery of "it's for their own good" arguments — the worst parts of Canada's colonial history were taken with the intent of doing good — and the legacy haunts us today.

*If Manjiro studied history at school in Fairhaven he would have learned about American colonialism and expansionism, which presumably got relayed to the Japanese when he returned.

Robert said...

Larry: I'm firmly on the side that laws in a free country should be concerned with preventing one person from harming another

Unfortunately, a lot of people think they are being harmed by things that honestly don't affect them. Like, say, a black teenager dancing with a white teenager. Or two men holding hands in public.

Reminds me of the complaint of the Orthodox chap in Lest Darkness Fall, that the Orthodox were being oppressed because the government let all those other sects worship as they pleased, and didn't let the Orthodox oppress them.

TCB said...

@ Der Oger, I once read that you can explain almost all conservative/right wing politics (in the US, and I think it makes sense anywhere else) with your second item: cheap labor. The conservatives want cheap labor and practically all their policies support that in some way.

Labor unions? Bust them. Outlaw the most effective strike methods.

Harsh sentences and prison cells for working classes. More laws against working class sorts of crimes. Make prisoners and make them work. (That's your third point, expanded).

Low taxes on great and inherited wealth. High taxes and fees on the lower classes. Education debt.

Few or no welfare benefits for the non-working poor.

Medical care tied to your job... makes it hard to leave a bad job.

Tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas or automate them!

Criminalize homelessness. Arrest the homeless for trespassing. Destroy their belongings. Create hostile architecture.

There are so many right wing policies that force desperate people to work for low pay. Good paying jobs are actually described in US corporate-speak as "high labor costs which must be brought under control or they will drive down profits."

David Brin said...

Robert hi, good point about there being an IMPLICIT threat in Perry's utterly non-violent and friendly and gift-giving "let's talk" visit to Edo Harbor. The Samurai caste that had brutally ruled and oppressed Japan for centuries was already arguing about HOW to catch up, given what they were learning about power and colonialism and technological progress. Perry - like Burlingame in China - might have been overflowing with goodwill and good intent ... and absolutely had nothing but good outcomes (especially for all non-samurai people in Japan)... but still, his ships crystalized that realization... that would have had nothing but positive outcomes, had the Meiji emperor been followed by a similarly modernist reformist genius, who could see that the militarist traditions should and must decline even further.

So yeah. But your point is highly limited. Sure, Perry's arrival made visual and palpable everything the Court had heard, in abstract, about shifting technological power. But there are absolutely no ways in which Perry's intent or behaviors or effects weren't noble and positive. It is not his fault how the world was turning and his result was that Japan awoke in time to be one of only three native nations to maintain full independence till the 1930s.

- Ethiopia till 1934... Thailand till the Japanese conquered them in 1942... and Japan, who would have made it all the way had THEY not decided to be vastly more rapaciously colonialist than anything they ever witnessed.

And when they WERE conquered, in 1945, they were ruled by just about the most benevolent conqueror in the history of the world. There are statues of MacArthur all over Japan today. A man of deep flaws, but also spectacular achievements and that was his greatest.


BTW Robert. Every month or two I have a glance at my spam bucket, filled with pathetic ravings. Occasionally the filter grabs one of your missives and dumps it there because someone else uses a similar monicker. No biggie. Just know that it happens and I won't check more than monthly, so there's nothing personal.

Alfred Differ said...


Reminds me of the complaint of the Orthodox chap...

Yah. I was tempted to write something like that last night in response for Larry, but I wanted to work at it a bit to find a non-religious version of the trap. I wrote up the religious version and then deleted it since I'm not a believer and it looks too much like an attack coming from me.

In a nutshell, one who believes in a God that punishes them and their children for not fighting heresy and blasphemy draws the coercion line way, way over there. They have to be upset at guys holding hands too if that's what they believe matters in how they are judged. There ARE people who think those PDA's harm children.

That means the difference between us in where we draw a line regarding what warrants coercion and what doesn't depends on the elements of our belief system religious and otherwise. Larry's (and mine) "preventing one person from harming another" depends on what counts as harm.

I have no solutions to offer. I note instead that 'justice' IS context dependent enough that we fight over it. My no-mask-mandate libertarian friends are arguing from a minority position and upset that people are judging them as unethical
and I've called them on it. It's all about a different opinion concerning what qualifies as justice.

Tim H. said...

I found this interesting:

I suspect an Apple M1 variant on a 10 or 14nm process would still be superior to X86 as we've become accustomed to it. And profit maximization can be an obstacle to technological leadership, so tweak the system before it breaks... again.

Larry Hart said...

The New York Times states the obvious:

Black Lives Matter was saying that Black people deserve as much as any others to live lives free of fear and free of state violence, not only from the police but from the entire criminal justice system.

Blue Lives Matter seemed to counter that violence against Black bodies was simply collateral damage in an effort to keep society safe and that the officers should not be constrained in their attempts to do so.

Republicans sided with the officers until Trump goons violently attacked officers. Then the entire argument fell apart.

Jon S. said...

There's one simple limit on the power of even strong AI - the ability to do anything with all that intelligence.

In the online game Fallout 76, set in an alternate timeline about 26 years after the Great War destroyed civilization, your character (who was a resident of Vault 76 until recently) meets the mayor of Grafton, WV. The mayor is the AI that was designed to be the mayor's assistant ("He stopped showing up, so a vote was held, and I won, one to zero!"). It knows that all the residents of the city are dead or mutated beyond recognition, but between the Vault dwellers running around and the recent return of two civilian factions, it believes tourist season should be approaching, and hires you to do some simple maintenance at four locations around the valley.

"I'll be waiting here. Because I don't have legs. And can't move."

Similarly, the AI controlling a remote Enclave bunker, encountered during one of the new Brotherhood of Steel missions, wants very badly to kill you. But you have to be dumb enough to follow its clearly dangerous instructions first (like the "decontamination shower" filled with a glowing green spray). Without your help, it can't do anything, really.

(Turns out the silicon threat comes from dumb AIs, the various robots with near-human intelligence carrying out their preprogrammed instructions to protect places that no longer exist. Particularly at issue is the completely-mechanized city of Watoga, where a hacker just before the war reprogrammed all the bots to be hostile. The mayor's assistant, MAIA, would love to help you, but has no way to control any of the bots. "I would summon maintenance to assist, but as I understand it, they would simply attempt to murder you.")

Larry Hart said...


Reminds me of the complaint of the Orthodox chap in Lest Darkness Fall, that the Orthodox were being oppressed because the government let all those other sects worship as they pleased, and didn't let the Orthodox oppress them.

That's exactly what white supremacists and "We are a Christian nation" are so angry about. A free country oppresses them by not allowing them to oppress others. They see oppressing others as an essential part of their cultural identity, so denying it to them is equivalent to denying the right to vote to black people. "Oh yeah? What about my rights?"

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

That means the difference between us in where we draw a line regarding what warrants coercion and what doesn't depends on the elements of our belief system religious and otherwise. Larry's (and mine) "preventing one person from harming another" depends on what counts as harm.

Agreed. There's no way to compromise with those people on this one--we just have to fight to win knowing we're right and they're wrong. I kid, but kidding on the square.

BTW, my PC caught Dr Brin's computer's disease (not easy to pass from Mac to Windows) and needs its hard drive repaired or replaced. Which means no working (or posting) from home at the moment. In case I disappear from cyberspace for awhile, that's why.

Darrell E said...

Larry Hart said...
"Benedict Donald unknowingly speaks the truth (but not the way he meant it)...

“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” he [Trump] wrote, echoing the final arguments of his lawyers in the Senate on Saturday.

All true, but not the "one party" he thinks that refers to.

Ain't no way in hell Trump wrote that. He doesn't know what several of those words mean and he'd never be able to spell half of them, not even with the "help" of spell-check. I'm a little surprised that anyone that is capable of writing that still works for him. I was hoping that by now all he'd be left with are the Boeberts and Gohmerts of the movement.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Meanwhile, the Europa program has selected a private contractor to launch the 6 1/2 ton probe. The SLS simply won't be ready in time.

David Brin said...