Monday, September 20, 2021

More (biological) science! Human origins, and lots more...

Sorry for the delay this time, but I'll compensate with new insights into where we came from... 

Not everyone agrees how to interpret the “Big Bang” of human culture that seems to have happened around 40,000 years ago (that I describe and discuss in Existence), a relatively rapid period when we got prolific cave art, ritual burials, sewn clothing and a vastly expanded tool kit… and lost our Neanderthal cousins for debatable reasons. Some call the appearance of a 'rapid shift' an artifact of sparse paleo sampling. V. S. Ramachandran agrees with me that some small inner (perhaps genetic) change had non-linear effects by allowing our ancestors to correlate and combine many things they were already doing separately, with brains that had enlarged to do all those separate things by brute force. Ramachandran suspects it involved “mirror neurons” that allow some primates to envision internally the actions of others. 

 

My own variant is “reprogrammability…” a leap to a profoundly expanded facility to program our thought processes anew in software (culture) rather than firmware or even hardware. Supporting this notion is how rapidly there followed a series of later “bangs” that led to staged advances in agriculture (with the harsh pressures that came with the arrival of new diets, beer and kings)… then literacy, empires, and (shades of Julian Jaynes!) new kinds of conscious awareness… all the way up to the modern era’s harshly decisive conflict between enlightenment science and nostalgic romanticism.


I doubt it is as simple as "Mirror Neurons." But they might indeed have played a role. The original point that I offered, even back in the nineties, was that we appear to have developed a huge brain more than 200,000 years ago because only thus could we become sufficiently top-predator to barely survive. If we had had reprogrammability and resulting efficiencies earlier, ironically, we could have achieved that stopping place more easily, with a less costly brain... and thus halted the rapid advance. 

It was a possibly-rare sequence... achieving efficiency and reprogrammability AFTER the big brain... that led to a leap in abilities that may be unique in the galaxy. Making it a real pisser that many of our human-genius cousins quail back in terror from taking the last steps to decency and adulthood... and possibly being the rescuers of a whole galaxy.
 
== And Related ==

There’s much ballyhoo that researchers found that just 1.5% to 7% of the human genome is unique to Homo sapiens, free from signs of interbreeding or ancestral variants.  Only when you stop and think about it, this is an immense yawn.  So Neanderthals and Denisovans were close cousins. Fine. Actually, 1.5% to 7% is a lot!  More than I expected, in fact.

 

Much is made of the human relationship with dogs…  how that advantage may have helped relatively weak and gracile humans re-emerge from Africa 60,000 years ago or so… about 50,000 years after sturdy-strong Neanderthals kicked us out of Eurasia on our first attempt. But wolves might have already been ‘trained’ to cooperate with those outside their species and pack… and trained by… ravens! At minimum it’s verified the birds will cry and call a pack to a recent carcass so the ‘tooled’ wolves can open it for sharking. What is also suspected is that ravens will summon a pack to potential prey animals who are isolated or disabled, doing for the wolves what dogs later did for human hunting bands.

 

== Other biological news! ==

 

A new carnivorous plant - which traps insects using sticky hairs -has been recently identified in bogs of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

 

Important news in computational biology. Deep learning systems can now solve the protein folding problem. "Proteins start out as a simple ribbon of amino acids, translated from DNA, and subsequently folded into intricate three-dimensional architectures. Many protein units then further assemble into massive, moving complexes that change their structure depending on their functional needs at a given time. And mis-folded proteins can be devastating—causing health problems from sickle cell anemia and cancer, to Alzheimer’s disease."

 

"Development of Covid-19 vaccines relied on scientists parsing multiple protein targets on the virus, including the spike proteins that vaccines target. Many proteins that lead to cancer have so far been out of the reach of drugs because their structure is hard to pin down."


...and...


The microbial diversity in the guts of today’s remaining hunter-gatherers far exceeds that of people in industrial societies, and researchers have linked low diversity to higher rates of “diseases of civilization,” including diabetes, obesity, and allergies. But it wasn't clear how much today's nonindustrial people have in common with ancient humans. Until bio archaeologists started mining 1000 year old poop -  ancient coprolites preserved by dryness and stable temperatures in three rock shelters in Mexico and the southwestern United States.


The coprolites yielded 181 genomes that were both ancient and likely came from a human gut. Many resembled those found in nonindustrial gut samples today, including species associated with high-fiber diets. Bits of food in the samples confirmed that the ancient people's diet included maize and beans, typical of early North American farmers. Samples from a site in Utah suggested a more eclectic, fiber-rich “famine diet” including prickly pear, ricegrass, and grasshoppers.” Notably lacking -- markers for antibiotic resistance. And they were notably more diverse, including dozens of unknown species. “In just these eight samples from a relatively confined geography and time period, we found 38% novel species.”


Friday, September 10, 2021

Demolition of America's moral high ground

In an article smuggled out of the gulag, Alexei Navalny makes - more powerfully - a point I have shouted for decades... that corruption is the very soul of oligarchy and the only way to fight it is with light. And if that light sears out the cheating, most of our other problems will be fixable by both bright and average humans... citizens... negotiating, cooperating, competing based on facts and goodwill. With the devils of our nature held in check by the only thing that ever worked...

...accountability.

Don't listen to me? Fine. Heed a hero.

Alas, the opposite trend is the one with momentum, favoring rationalizing monsters. Take this piece of superficially good news -- "Murdoch empire's News Corp. pledges to support Zero Emissions by 2030!"

Those of you who see this as a miraculous turnaround, don't. They always do this. "We NEVER said cars don't cause smog! We NEVER said tobacco is good for you! We NEVER said burning rivers are okay! We NEVER said civil rights was a commie plot! We NEVER said Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires will turn out well! We NEVER said the Ozone Crisis was fake!..."
... plus two dozen more examples of convenient amnesia that I list in Polemical Judo.
Now this 'turnaround?' As fires and storms and droughts make Denialism untenable even for raving lunatics and the real masters with real estate holdings in Siberia? so now, cornered by facts, many neural deprived confeds swerve into End Times Doomerism? No, we will not forget.


== More about Adam Smith... the real genius, not the caricature ==

I've long held that we must rescue the fellow who might (along with Hume and Locke) be called the First Liberal, in that he wanted liberated markets for labor, products, services and capital so that all might prosper... and if all do not prosper, then something is wrong with the markets. 

Smith denounced the one, central failure mode that went gone wrong 99% of the time, in most cultures; that has been cheating by those with power and wealth, suppressing fair competition so their brats would inherit privileges they never earned.

6000 years show clearly that cheating oligarchs, kings, priests, lords, owners are far more devastating to flat-fair-creative markets than "socialism" ever was. (Especially if you recognize the USSR was just another standard Russian Czardom with commissar-boyars and a repainted theology.) Whereas Smith observes that “the freer and more general the competition,” the greater will be “the advantage to the public.”

Here in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism the rediscovery of Smith is taken further, by arguing his moral stance was also, in interesting ways, theological.


== Now about that Moral High Ground ==


The demolition of USA's moral high ground - now aided by the most indignantly self-righteous generation of youths since the Boomers - is THE top priority of our enemies.  

Let me be clear, this is pragmatically devastating! As I have pointed out six times in trips to speak at DC agencies, it's a calamity, not because we don't need to re-evaluate and re-examine faults and crimes - (we do!) - but because that moral high ground is a top strategic asset in our fight to champion a free and open future when moral matters will finally actually count.

In those agency talks, I point out one of the top things that helped us to survive the plots and schemes of the then-and-future KGB, whose superior spycraft and easy pickings in our open society left us at a huge disadvantage.  What was it that evened the playing field for us? 

Defectors. They'd come in yearly, monthly ... and once a decade, some defector would bring in a cornucopia of valuable intel. Beyond question, former KGB agent Vlad Putin made it his absolute top priority to ensure that will not happen during Round Two. He has done it by systematically eliminating the three things we offered would be defectors --

- Safety....
- Good prospects in the West... and...
- The Moral High Ground.

Safety was the first thing Putin openly and garishly attacked, with deliberately detectable/attributable thuggery, in order to terrify. The other two lures have been undermined with equal systematicity, by fifth columns inside the U.S. and the West, especially as Trumpism revealed what America can be like, when our dark, confederate side wins one of the phases of our 250 year ongoing civil war. It has enabled Putin and other rivals to sneer "Who are YOU to lecture us about anything?"...

... And fools on the left nod in agreement, yowling how awful we are, inherently... when a quarter of the world's people would drop everything to come here, if they could. 

(Dig it, dopes. You want the narrative to be "we're improvable and America's past, imperfect progress shows it can happen!" But the sanctimoniously destructive impulse is to yowl "We're horrible and irredeemable!")

But then, we win that high ground back with events like the Olympics, showing what an opportunity rainbow we are. And self-crit -- even when unfairly excessive -- is evidence of real moral strength.


== Evidence? ==


This article from The Atlantic, History will judge the complicit, by Anne Applebaum, discusses how such a Fifth Column develops in a nation, collaborators willing, even eager, to assist foreign enemies against democracy and the rule of law. (I addressed much of this in Polemical Judo.)


"...many of those who became ideological collaborators were landowners and aristocrats, “the cream of the top of the civil service, of the armed forces, of the business community,” people who perceived themselves as part of a natural ruling class that had been unfairly deprived of power under the left-wing governments of France in the 1930s. Equally motivated to collaborate were their polar opposites, the “social misfits and political deviants” who would, in the normal course of events, never have made successful careers of any kind. What brought these groups together was a common conclusion that, whatever they had thought about Germany before June 1940, their political and personal futures would now be improved by aligning themselves with the occupiers."



== And now… from crazy town … ==


Turkey’s leader met two E.U. presidents. The woman among them didn’t get a chair.


And here’s an interesting look at the early fifties, showing an amazing overlap between UFO stuff and the plague of McCarthyism. And it’s stunning how similar the meme plagues were, to today. “On any given night, viewers of the highest-rated show in the history of cable news, Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, might find themselves treated to its namesake host discussing flying saucers and space aliens alongside election conspiracies and GOP talking points. Praise for former President Donald Trump, excuses for those involved in the Capitol assault, and criticism of racial and sexual minorities can sit seamlessly beside occasional interviews featuring UFO “experts” pleading conspiracy. Recent segments found Carlson speculating that an art installation in Utah was the work of space aliens and interviewing a reporter from the Washington Examiner about whether UFOs can also travel underwater like submarines.”


I do not like these Putin shills

I do not like indignant shrills

From Foxite liars aiming barbs

At every elite except thars.

Lecture us when mafia lords...

...casino moguls and commie hordes

Petro sheiks and inheritance brats

And despots and their apparats

Don't rule the GOP with help

From uncle toms who on-cue yelp!

Your all-out war on expert castes

has one goal, lordship that lasts!


And finally

...showing that we aren't the only ones... Dolphins chew on toxic puffer fish and pass them around, as stoners do with a joint.




Saturday, September 04, 2021

Should facts and successes matter in economics? Or politics?

The rigid stances taken by today’s entire- “right” and farthest*-“left” are both not-sane and un-American, violating a longstanding principle of yankee pragmatism that can be summarized: 

“I am at-most 90% right and my foes (except confederates) are at most 99% wrong.” (The Confederacy was - and remains - 100% evil.) 

That principle continues: 
“Always a default should first be to listen, negotiate and learn… before reluctantly and temporarily concluding that I must smack down your foaming-rabid, hysterically unreasonable ass.” 

And yes, my use of the “left/right” terminology is ironic, since adherents of that hoary-simplistic-stupid metaphor could not define “left” or “right” if their own lives depended on it!  

Nowhere is this more valid than in the ‘dismal science’ of economics. Some things are proved: Adam Smith was wise and a good person, who pointed out that true cooperation and productive, positive-sum competition cannot thrive without each other, or the involvement of every empowered participant in an open society. The crux of Smithian liberalism was "stop wasting talent!" Every poor child who isn't lifted to an even playing field is a crime against BOTH any decent conscience AND any chance of truly competitive enterprise. Hence, "social programs" to uplift poor kids to a decent playing field are not "socialism." They are what any true believer in market competition... or decency... would demand.


Also proved: Keynsianism mostly works, when it is applied right, uplifting the working class and boosting money velocity, while its opposite - Supply Side/Thatcherism - was absolutely wrong, top to bottom and in every detail, without a single positive effect or outcome or successful prediction to its jibbering crazy credit. Again "Supply Side" is nothing but an incantation cult to excuse a return to feudalism. (I invite wagers!)


Competition is good and creative of prosperity, but only when cooperatively regulated and refereed, like in sports, to thwart relentlessly inevitably human temptation for the rich and powerful to cheat! (Bet me on that, too. On my side is evidence from 99% of 6000 years of human history.)


If you’d like to Explore this non-left, non-right, non-dogmatic approach to using what actually works, getting the best from both competition and cooperation, you can do worse than start at the site that conveys the real Adam Smith. It shines light on how the rich and elites are often the very last people who should be trusted with capitalism! 


Read the Evonomics site! For example: “Eight Reasons Why Inequality Ruins the Economy.”  and “To Tackle Inequality, We Need to Start Talking About Where Wealth Comes From. The Thatcherite narrative on wealth creation has gone unchallenged for decades.”


== Doubling down on tax cuts ==


The ability of cultists to double down on the blatantly disproved is now our greatest danger. As in this dazzlingly evil-stupid call for more tax cuts for the rich.


Oh, if only we had my 'disputations arenas" or some other top venue for challenging spell-weavers to back up their magical incantations with cash! This doubling (sextupling!)-down on Supply Side 'voodoo' promotes what is by now a true and proved psychosis. Utter refusal by the tightly-disciplined Republican political caste to face truth about their 40 years of huge, deca-trillion dollar experiments in priming the industrial pump at the top.


You need to hammer this. Not one major prediction made for that "theory" ever came true. Not one, ever.


- No flood of investment in productive industry or R&D. (As Adam Smith described, the rich pour most of their tax largesse into passive rentier properties, stock buybacks, CEO packages, capital preservation, asset bubbles and now frippy "nonexistent" artworks, reducing available capital and driving down money velocity.)


- No surge of economic activity, leading to tax revenue.

- No erasure of debt. In fact, deficit curves reveal Democrats are always more fiscally prudent than Republicans, and that is always, always. (Escrow wager stakes on that, or admit you are dogmatist cowards.) Republican Congresses - the laziest in US history - have had one priority, to protect this vampire suck from America's carotid arteries. 

In contrast, Keynsian interventions - when balanced by pay-downs in good times (e.g. Jerry Brown, Clinton, Newsom) - nearly always raise money velocity, investment, tax revenue, production and middle class health, while turning debt ratios downward. Oh, and doing something for our kids, like infrastructure, Earth-saving and social justice.

I know several "economics pundits" who are very well aware of all this and admit it privately, but are terrified of their oligarchic masters. They do not dispute these facts, in private. They admit that the rich will have to go back to paying the legitimate shares that our parents in the Greatest Generation assigned to them, rates that correlated with the best growth and middle class health increases in the history of the human species. 

And yet, they are paid to drag their feet and distract from our desperate need to send today's GOP to the showers. They do their job for oligarchy by distracting with endless denunciations of the Federal Reserve. shouting "Fed! Fed-Fed-Fed!" Or... "squirrel!"

The longer we put off the Great Reset, back to the Greatest Generation's successful social contract -- that stymied Marx by co-opting the workers into a rising middle class -- the angrier will be the ensuing middle class and working class demands, and the more the right will succeed at what seems to be their main project... resuscitating Marx from the grave and setting his scenarios back in motion.

Put it off long enough? It will be too late for Rooseveltism. Tumbrels will roll.

I don't want that. These fools are acting like they do. 

Or else, as if they are being blackmailed. And that, alas, is the likeliest explanation of all.