Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Tales of optimism - and concern - for planet Earth

First to all of you who participate in Contrary Brin's lively and very smart comment of the oldest and best on the web... see a housekeeping comment below.

Ever since I wrote Earth, way back in 1989, I’ve long held we should emulate some of nature’s own processes and help her to ameliorate the harm we’ve done with our ignorance and adolescent greed -- including now the notion of a worldwide campaign to ‘plant a Trillion Trees.'  Does it count for my predictive tally that a Trillion Trees Campaign was later proposed in 2011? Or that the World Economic Forum in Davos endorsed it in 2020?

But let’s correlate that with something in the news about geoengineering. If it is acceptable to help the planet by planting billions of trees, how is tree planting any different inherently than proposed efforts to stir bottom sediments into fast ocean currents, thus fertilizing them and bringing alive some of the 70% of the oceans that are ‘deserts' almost barren of visible life?

This could exactly emulate how Mother Gaia creates the vast life-fecundity off the Grand Banks or Chile or South Africa, that both feeds hundreds of millions and pulls carbon from the air.

So far, there have been no experiments yet in bottom stirring – well after all, Earth is set in 2038. A cruder but apparently effective method that’s been tried with promising results has been to add iron dust to some currents, always with the result of stimulating bursts of phytoplankton. followed by increased fish populations. Alas, the other result is always howls of “arrogant geoengineering!” and “this distracts us from reducing carbon emissions!” (No, it does not. Nor have we ever seen ‘toxic blooms.')
Now a new twist. Apparently, fresh calculations suggest that whale poop used to serve this function, before humanity darn near drove the great beasts extinct. (Want irony? Whales were saved - in the barest nick of time - by the arrival of fossil fuels, which ended commercial greed for whale oil.) When whale populations plummeted, so did phytoplankton and krill populations across vast regions.

“In 1990, the oceanographer John Martin proposed that the Southern Ocean is starved of iron, and that deliberately seeding its waters with the nutrient would allow phytoplankton to grow. The blooming plankton would soak up carbon dioxide, Martin argued, and cool the planet and slow the pace of global warming. Researchers have since tested this idea in 13 experiments, adding iron to small stretches of the Southern and Pacific Oceans and showing that plankton do indeed flourish in response.

“Such iron-fertilization experiments have typically been billed as acts of geo-engineering—deliberate attempts to alter Earth’s climate. But Savoca and his colleagues think that the same approach could be used for conservation. Adding iron to waters where krill and whales still exist could push the sputtering food cycle into higher gear, making it possible for whales to rebound at numbers closer to their historical highs. “We’d be re-wilding a barren land by plowing in compost, and the whole system would recuperate,” says one oceanographer.

Some of these ideas are explored in Hacking Planet Earth: How Geoengineering can help us reimagine the future, by Thomas M. Kostigen, which delves into the technologies that may help tackle climate change.

Though you could do worse than read Earth… and, of course, my sci fi about … whales.

Oh, speaking of Earth, in that novel, I speculated about different mineral forms of perovskite that make up most of the mantle below the crust and above the core. Perovskites are among the highest temperature superconductors, especially at high pressures. Now comes news of discovery (within the lattice of a diamond) of a new mineral form that’s nicknamed “Dave.” (Named for geophysicist Ho-kwang (Dave) Mao.)

== Climate Change ==

As climate ructions pour ever-more blatant pummelings upon us and Denialist cultists seek refuge in doomer incantations, notable is the detailed, sensible nerdiness of Bill Gates' book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need (the audiobook version is read by Wil Wheaton.) The book is well organized, easy to follow, and lays out all the issues in a very clear way.

It's mostly about economics - for each different type of greenhouse gas emissions (and there are many), what is the cost of reducing those emissions, expressed in terms of the impact on an average consumer or family. Gates talks about the impact on transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, power generation and so on. He also summarizes what technological innovations are needed to bring the cost down.

But of course, almost all of our enlightenment problem solving systems are currently clogged by the great big, worldwide putsch to re-establish varied forms of feudalism.

== A changing climate ==

Micro-plastic fragments swirling in the atmosphere may be influencing the climate - scattering and absorbing sunlight. 

The American bumblebee has vanished from eight U.S. states - and could now qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

UCSD researchers have identified a correlation between extreme heat in low income countries and increased incidence of stillbirths and preterm births. 

And.. rising waters: The volume of the downpour during one hour in Zhengzhou, which flooded subways and killed scores of people, exceeded anything in 5,000 years of recorded Chinese history. Hundreds were killed in Germany by rivers surging to levels not seen in 500 or even 1,000 years. And for the first time, temperatures hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit in the normally cool climes of Canada, while it’s snowing in Brazil. 

The western drought is unprecedented. The fit is hitting the shan. And in the southeastern US, which will experience the nation's guaranteed worst outcomes, from malaria to the worst loss of land to rising waters... denialism is becoming frantic. Open war vs. all fact professions. Plus frenzied "prepper-survivalist" notions of "If then end's a-comin' then bring it!"

Sure, it could lead to Holnism, (from The Postman.) But what's scariest is something I predicted back in the 1980s and 1990s... that all of this will lead to literal millennialism. A mania in the early 2030s around the supposed 2000th Easter. It will happen, so we better sane-up before that.

What can you do? Well some of you might consider: above and beyond mere politics… if you seriously want to help civilization be resilient against shocks the future might bring, consider (in the U.S.) taking training for CERT – your local Community Emergency Response Team. It’s a really interesting and fun 20 hour course given by your local fire department and you get cool green equipment and a badge! And once a decade maybe some light duties to help keep your family and neighbors safe. 

Then there is this detailed interview I gave about half a dozen ways that small investments could make us much more resilient... what we should have done... and can still do... to help our nations, civilization and families be more robust against the batterings of fate. 

== A twin Earth? ==

Earth has been digitized! A new virtual model of our planet - Digital Twin Earth - will use advanced AI algorithms and the latest data and images from earth-observation satellites to help researchers better understand the problems of climate change. This model will simulate the effects of natural, dynamic processes and human activities on the atmosphere, ice sheets, oceans, and ecosystems of earth.

Meanwhile... NASA's newest Landsat satellite has just sent back its first crystal-clear photos of planet Earth, showing our planet's changing landscapes, providing critical data to help us better understand climate change, and monitor threats from wildfires and coastal erosion.

Knowledge is power. One step toward climate accountability: Climate Trace compiles satellite observations to monitor global emissions from agricultural, manufacturing, transportation, and oil and gas extraction sectors. For instance, a snapshot of the CO2 emissions of the United States appears at right.

== A story of resources ==

An optimistic future is possible, ironically more than ever in these dolorous and insipidly pessimistic times, as solutions keep rising…. if only we can gather the collective and individual will to use them. As described in Peter Diamandis’s book Abundance: The Future is Better than you think. Take this very recent example from Peter’s newsletter:
“This past year, the world’s biggest jeweler Pandora announced it will cease to sell all mined diamonds (which are scarce and fraught with environmental and human rights abuses), and switch exclusively to selling lab-made diamonds, which can be abundant and low cost—produced from water, methane, and electricity.”
There are few oligarchic-monopolistic conspiracies more evil than the DeBeers diamond cartel. So this is potentially great news, brought to you by advancing technology.
Though he starts with the story of aluminum.


Housekeeping note. I'll switch back to allowing anonymous comments for just a few days, to see if any of the regulars in our comment community were locked out, when I switched to requiring a Google sign in. If that requirement locked you out, this is your chance to speak up. But the spam bucket was empty, last I checked. So we're likely to make the change permanent.


duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

I found this

Its calling for more research - I think they were looking for a total of $170 million in spending

Which is bloody peanuts compared to the problem!

I would love to be able to put this in front of Elon Musk

duncan cairncross said...

Another route to the same report
The total requested spend was $149 million

reason said...

Look I know people here think differently, but I seriously think that one thing we need to do (and this is because this problem is not simply a technical problem - all the technology in the world won't solve major problems if people don't use it) is to get rid of billionaires. Maybe a handful of billionaires are not totally bad people, but enough of them are. To become a billionaire one thing you tend to have is a tendency to excess and a tendency to seek power. And excess is something we cannot afford. And concentrated power is one thing we cannot afford because it acts against seeking co-operation. We need both co-operation and competition and in my few excessively concentrated power (which is what billionaires represent) acts against BOTH. I'm happy for there to be millionaires. But I don't think we need any billionaires.

Larry Hart said...


I'm happy for there to be millionaires. But I don't think we need any billionaires.

There will never be consensus on any suggestion of this type as long as half of the people hear "Productive individuals who create immense wealth should have it confiscated away from them", and the other half hear "Wealth acquired and hoarded by force and fraud should be returned to the commons", and everyone thinks they're talking about the same thing.

David Brin said...

You could predict my answer, LH & reason.

Yes, while I favor exponentially progressive taxation on both income and wealth -- both to prevent a return of 6000 years of oligarchy and to help pay for the civilization that makes their wealth safe from tumbrels -- I also think that it is vital for creative/productive or dynamic people to continue feeling incentives to invest time and capital in risky ways.

Yes, there's less personal risk in pursuit of your second billion! And hell yeah, that second (and following) billion should involve society selectively taxing based on the perceived utility of the investments... in other words, leave Elon alone! And Blue Origin as opposed to Amazon. Better yet, tax those endeavors in the form of 50 year delayed vestings of equity in SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Apologists for oligarchy/feudalism would scream "no picking winners and losers!" Well get bent, you lackeys of would be plantation lords. Adam Smith knew that there must be hands on the tiller. And the record from 1940-1982 was vastly better than after the cult of Supply Side said "let the rich 'invest' however they like."

reason said...

Between 10 million and 900 million there is still a hell of a lot of incentive. It should be easier to get rich and harder to stay rich. But money makes money and great piles of money always show a failure of competition.

David Brin said...

"But money makes money and great piles of money always show a failure of competition."

First half, yes. Rentier activities should be highly taxed - opposite to now - in favor of direct involvement in risky-fruitful enterprises. Still, Elon competed very hard.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Apologists for oligarchy/feudalism would scream "no picking winners and losers!"

Which is ironic, since the whole point of oligarchy/feudalism is that the system is rigged in favor of some winners at the expense of other losers.

scidata said...

Adam Smith's term 'dead stock' was simple yet clever.

David Brin said...

Yep. Those objecting to the setting of priorities by half a million diverse, reciprocally critical and openly accountable civil servants plus elected officials cry that instead "losers and winners" should be decided by a narrow, secretive, incestuous cabal of 5000 conniving golf buddies.

Alfred Differ said...

To become a billionaire one thing you tend to have is a tendency to excess and a tendency to seek power.

Ugh. If I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with this, I might be inclined to punish it. I don't, though, so I won't.

Tendencies to excess and seek power a not vices. Neither are they virtues. Show me the harm someone does in their excesses and uses of power and I'll consider whether their behavior is unjust.

Excesses USED to be a vice in days when people starved to death when one of them was gluttonous. Show me the starving masses now.

Seeking power USED to lead to vice in days when bloody conquest was common and politics was a blood sport. Show me the massacres now.

These things CAN lead to vices, but mere tendencies are not enough to provoke me to play god. Show me the real harm done so I can play irate member of a great civilization instead.


…concentrated power is one thing we cannot afford…

THAT'S true, but there is a more useful remedy available to us than stealing the wealth they accrue. Recognize that some methods of accrual are more problematic. In fact, some methods of accrual are MORE problematic than the accrual. Also, some USES of wealth are problematic while others are really damn useful.

…and great piles of money always show a failure of competition.

Absolutely not. They might, but not always.

Look around you. You'll find the members of our civilization have amassed the greatest pile of money ever to exist in the history of mankind. HUGE stinking piles of it that grows so fast the entire world can't produce babies fast enough to eat it all. Malthus did NOT expect that. As a social class, the Peasantry is dying out. They are ALL moving up.

You can rightly be concerned about concentrations of money in the hands of people who would abuse others, but don't kill the system that lifts every f@##ing peasant out of grinding misery. Simple solutions to divide power will do that and billions will die when this civilization collapses.

I wish I believed our civil servants were smart enough to set good priorities. I don't. However, I do think they help counter the conniving golf buddies. I'm fine with pretending they are smart because it doesn't really matter. As long as they help divide the cheaters, that's enough for now.

Alfred Differ said...


Which is ironic, since the whole point of oligarchy/feudalism is that the system is rigged in favor of some winners at the expense of other losers.

Exactly right. They even had the code of ethics rigged in such a way that the peasants (the most numerous social class) thought that good behavior would be rewarded in the after life. "Good" was defined by the code of course, so it was a giant circular definition.

Our historical ire against people who make a lot of money traces to the old code of ethics which assumed a zero sum game was being played. This belief shows in a lot of our older stories. Shylock can't be a protagonist, right?

Not all billionaires play the zero sum game, though.

David Brin said...

I don't often disagree with Alfred. But I must re: power.

Yes, "everybody wants to rule the world." When it looks like that kind of power is achievable, some people - esp insatiable males - will cheat and kill to get it.

The Enlightenment Experiment is about levelling those disparities enough for the benefits of creative competition to exceed those of cheating. It is not easy! In fact, I rank the enlightenment alternative state as likely the rarest factor in the Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox.

Don Gisselbeck said...

Why is it a good idea to give unlimited power to people obsessed with getting power?
To repeat myself, we need proportionality of outcomes. The idea that an occasionally very lucky grifter like Musk is is 10000 times as skilled and hardworking as the average Montana rancher is absurd. (Watch some Thunderbolt and then get back to me about Musk.)

David Brin said...

Bah. Even if you discount the blatant fact that Elon sped up the arrival of electric cars by AT LEAST 5 years, there is the Falcon tail landing rocket that smashed the nation-crippling monopoly of ULA/Boeing/Lockheed that robbed us blind for launches. The best engineers alive seek to work for him. I know some.

While his fan-cult exaggerates... the cult of hating and dismissing him is far worse and far more detached from any evidence or reality.

Cesar A. Santos said...

"While his fan-cult exaggerates... the cult of hating and dismissing him is far worse and far more detached from any evidence or reality"
Their hate born of pure jealousy...

scidata said...

I'm not a Musk fan-boy. For one thing, the faux-stutter is an irritatingly common affectation these days (esp. on liberal TV). Ask a real stutterer since childhood like Biden if it's cool or chique. It's blood-d-d-y n-n-n-ot.

However, he has created a real life example of Seneca's
"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult."
That's a game changer in these 'go back to the caves' oligarchian times.

Alfred Differ said...

I have no problem with leveling the field. My issue is treating a basic human condition (wanting power) as if it was a disease requiring amputation of the head. People who want there to be no billionaires threaten to enact a stupidly simplistic solution to a complex human problem. Removing those heads has worked exactly zero times in history and been tried over and over. The hydra just grows more.

The problem isn't the human tendency to acquire power. The issue is what we do with it. Cheating and killing are wrong enough to justify head lopping. Getting rich isn't.

I agree about the rarest Drake factor. I'm convinced.

Why is it a good idea to give unlimited power…

Argh. Who is arguing for that?

occasionally very lucky grifter

As for Musk, he's no grifter. Look closely at his teams and you'll find bright engineers joining AND leaving. No glamor works well up close under stress. Some like him more than others.

Grifters don't collect functioning teams of bright engineers. They simply can't deliver what the engineers want. Not for long. Doesn't last.

10000 times as skilled

Great wealth and income have almost nothing to do with that. A lot of it is luck. Heaping piles of it for some. I've seen it and got a pleasant dribble for myself. 8)

Two equally skilled authors won't have equal outcomes in the market for their books either. Luck matters whether we like to admit it or not.

duncan cairncross said...

Re - Musk

Robert Heinlein said that we needed the very rich as they could do things that the bean counters prevented more normal companies from doing!

Musk is about the ONLY example of that I am aware of

Interestingly I'm also pretty sure that "becoming filthy rich" was never one of his main goals

DP said...

I can never tell if Elon Musk is a genius or a con man.

After learning this week that his fortune is based on $4.9 billion in subsidies courtesy of the American taxpayer, I'm going to go with con man.

DP said...

Dr. Brin, you forgot the other major trend, the ones that can save the planet even as it wrecks the economy: the demographic cliff.

(I love demographics, they are the closest thing we have to a working crystal ball.)

Every year going forward, there are going to be fewer and fewer Americans.

American Total Fertility Rate (TFR) plunged last year to only 1.7 births per woman (a TFR of 2.1 is needed to maintain a steady population where you fill as many cribs as graves each year).

America is looking down the barrel of population collapse
"That’s inescapably part of why the American birthrate is now just 1.7 children per woman, and without some change — cultural or political or both — this combination of forces means it will keep falling, quite possibly down to Korean levels. At that point, our population would halve in about one human lifespan."

Yep those number check out. A TFR of 1.7 is only an 81% replacement rate. Assuming a generation every 20 years, by the end of this century (4 generations hence) America's population will drop to 43% of its current population (assuming there are no radical life extension technologies that allow Boomers to live and work past age 150 years).

If we are to maintain our current population - let alone our current status as a military and economic superpower - we are going to need lots and lots of immigrants.

Lots of immigrants. And how has that worked out so far?

Indeed, everyone outside of sub-Saharan Africa is seeing a collapse in birth rates:

And other nations have it worse.

China is literally running out of women of child bearing age. By the end of this century China's population will fall from the current 1.4 billion by half to only 700 million (most of whom will be old people).

Xi is acting the way he is because he knows how little time he has left.

Japan, South Korea, and Russia (with Russia's decline compounded by massive death rates from an African level of HIV infection, rampant alcoholism and staggering suicide rates) will all see population collapse.

Putin is also acting the way he is because he also knows how little time he has left.

Even Islamic countries have below replacement TFRs.

Europe should stay roughly stable to slow decline (though the French birth rate is relatively high, Eastern Europe is becoming a ghost town - Bulgaria and Lithuania will see their populations fall by 23% by 2050).

And Mexican birthrates have fallen. Rather than building a wall, America will be begging Mexico for laborers in a decade.

The above doesn't even factor in now annual pandemics of Covid mutations, reduced fertility rates and sperm counts courtesy of forever chemicals and microplastics, and continued deaths of despair from opioids.

The last time something comparable to this occurred after the Black Death hit Europe.

So many peasants died that the survivors were able to renegotiate lease terms with their feudal lords - medieval labor finally got some leverage - leading to peasant prosperity.

During the pandemic, almost 3 million Boomers retired early leaving a labor force hole that simply won't be filled for decades.

So what you are seeing with the Great Resignation and rebirth of labor unions is something similar. The labor shortage has given American workers some leverage.

That's the good news.

Then there is the bad news. As for capitalism itself, it simply cannot function in a world of declining and aging populations - because there is no such thing as no-growth capitalism.

It's going to be interesting - as in the Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times".

DP said...

If we lose our pollinators, it's game over.

Der Oger said...

Show me the starving masses now.

Here, in Yemen.. And here, in the US.

Aside from that, one could expect Hunger to mount his horse again if the global warming and over-fishing of the oceans continue as projected. One contributing factor to the war in Syria was a massive drought prior to the start.

Oh, and global inflation, supply chain issues ...

Der Oger said...

For every Musk, there are two Thiels and Kochs. He is an exception to the rule.

Besides that, the rule should be that "Individual Wealth is fine, but should never destroy or diminish common wealth."

Companies that invest individual wealth in other healthy companies to become a major shareholder and force them into unhealthy, short-term profit oriented actions are destroying the common wealth.(Over here, they are commonly called "locusts".)
Real estate firms that artificially drive up housing costs are destroying the common wealth.
An educational system that puts up barriers to certain classes is hindering talent and innovation, and thus destroying the wealth that could be created in the future.
A healthcare system that is strictly profit-oriented generates great individual wealth, yet lowers quality standards and overall wages and thus destroys the common wealth.
Union busting increases individual wealth, but destroys the common wealth.
You can make and save a lot of money to let infrastructure crumble, yet again, in the long run, it won't become cheaper for the rest of us.
Pouring billions into law enforcement, the military and intelligence agencies to occupy your own and other countries, and wage war against whatever the current talking point is can greatly help individual wealth to grow (defense contracts, spoils of the war) but also destroys the common wealth of all nations involved.
Investing in fossile energy company-friendly politics and lawmakers may increase your individual wealth, but also destroys the common wealth through the effects of global warming.
And so on.

matthew said...

There are no good billionaires.

Elon used money his parents gained through slave labor to buy his electric car company. He killed his workers by denying COVID and he maintains his empire by relentlessly fighting any unionization and gaming the tax system. Bah.

Gates is an unapologetic eugenicist that also is trying to kill public schools.

Spare me the myth-making about good billionaires. Sure, both of my examples above have done things that interest them (space, vaccine research) that have benefits. They also are actively involved in ending our Enlightenment.

Concentrated wealth is corrosive, and hereditary wealth is worse.

I've turned down the recruiters from Tesla, Blue Origin, and Space X. I'm the best in the world at what I do, as measured by my manufacturing results. So, no, the "best engineers" do not work for Musk.

Don Gisselbeck said...

Our primary goal has to be the preservation of a free, open, fair society. To do this we must drastically limit the power of the predator class. If that means our progress is a bit slower because innovations are made by people not motivated by greed, that's a small price to pay.

David Brin said...

Alfred “a lot of it is luck.” Elon admits that. At least four times, funding came through exactly in the nick of time.

Duncan, there are other examples of the very rich choosing to do things with no ROI or very long range, outside the range of government. In fact that is the core concept underlying my Philanthropy proposal Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy -

DD That is a poor basis to choose con-man. Those subsidies were set up by what’s supposed to be a far-seeing government wanting to shift incentives so industry will invest. 50% of those incentives are monstrously corrupt (sugar, gasahol, fossil fuels) but some truly do aim at shifting priorities in wise directions and Elon leaped to make those goals happen. Yes, that proves he was not “self-made.” He never claimed to be.

Those incentives may have helped save the world.

Demographics are amazing and may save the world. Indeed the fact THAT human females, when fully empowered and confident, choose to have two kids, is amazing and maybe a temporary fluke that we had better use while we can to set up a great and wise society. A fluke that may be pertinent to the Fermi Paradox. (Ponder.)

“If we lose our pollinators, it's game over.” Hey I’m trying! Taking shots so I may get my bees back in the spring.

Der Oger, I did not say the Four Horsemen are extinct. The AMOUNT of suffering and injustice today is unbearable. The RATIOS are at deep historic lows.

I am fine with billionaires facing ever-higher levels of transparency, accountability, taxation and getting hemmed in toward using their “genius” on ever harder problems. Elon is doing the latter without being forced to. So have guys I know investing in asteroid mining. Gate and his foundation. Not many.

Inheritance taxes (and on the evasion foundations) should be huge.

matthew I hope you will suddenly be tempted by great wealth. Can I watch? With popcorn?

DG I agree with all three sentences. But the last one of the three only contingently. I would implement with vastly more subtlety and complexity than you would, apparently.

No seriously Duncan... in fact all of you... what do you think of Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy -

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

Besides that, the rule should be that "Individual Wealth is fine, but should never destroy or diminish common wealth."

That's a very concise way of distinguishing wealth-producers from wealth-extractors.

The first play a very positive-sum game, becoming wealthy by adding value to the commons. It seems only fair to me that a percentage of that new wealth gets to be their private property. I'm thinking of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, maybe Steve Jobs.

The latter plays a zero-sum game, becoming wealthy by extracting wealth from the commons. I'm thinking of Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, and insurance companies whose business model is to creatively deny claims.

Der Oger said...

The RATIOS are at deep historic lows.

I agree on that. And your proposals on transparency, accountability, taxation. Alas, political reality is that there are very influential lobby groups and media corporations hindering just that.

matthew said...

"May you be tempted by great wealth"

Doc, from your mouth to Ifni's ear.

(OK, I don't really want great wealth. I'm already very good at what I have chosen to do as a career. Great wealth would mean learning how to either manage or give away the great wealth. Either one would be essentially learning a whole new career. Plus always worrying about blackmail, kidnapping, sycophants, and GOP boot lickers. Bah. I have better things to do.)

Larry Hart said...

An interesting analysis of presidential power in historical concept

First, what the author means by "regime":

American politics is punctuated by the rise and fall of political orders or regimes. In each regime, one party, whether in power or not, dominates the field. Its ideas and interests define the landscape, forcing the opposition to accept its terms. Dwight Eisenhower may have been a Republican, but he often spoke in the cadences of the New Deal. Mr. Clinton voiced Reaganite hosannas to the market.

Regimes persist across decades. The Jeffersonian regime lasted from 1800 to 1828; the Jacksonian regime, from 1828 to 1860; the Republican regime, from 1860 to 1932; the New Deal order, from 1932 to 1980.
Eventually, however, regimes grow brittle. Their ideology no longer speaks to the questions of the day; important interests lose pride of place; the opposition refuses to accept the leading party and its values.

Then, how this concept constrained President Obama and may constrain President Biden:

When the president is aligned with a strong regime, he has considerable authority, as Lyndon Johnson realized when he expanded the New Deal with the Great Society. When the president is opposed to a strong regime, he has less authority, as Mr. Obama recognized when he tried to get a public option in the Affordable Care Act. When the president is aligned with a weak regime, he has the least authority, as everyone from John Adams to Mr. Carter was forced to confront. When the president is opposed to a weak regime, he has the greatest authority, as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan discovered. These presidents, whom Mr. Skowronek calls reconstructive, can reorder the political universe.
Politics is not physics. A president opposed to the established order may seek to topple it, only to discover that it is too resilient or that his troops are too feeble and lacking in fight. Where we are in political time — whether we are in a reconstructive moment, ripe for reordering, or not — cannot be known in advance. The weakness or strength of a regime, and of the opposition to the regime, is revealed in the contest against it.

What is certain is that the president is both creature and creator of the political world around him. Therein lies Mr. Biden’s predicament.

Treebeard said...

"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult."

That sounds like one stage of a theory of history which has become a popular meme:

Weak men create hard times
Hard times create strong men
Strong men create good times
Good times create weak men.

This of course is heresy to Progressives, according to whom things can only go in two directions: to the stars or the caves; to the bright future or the dark past. The idea that history is cyclical, that everything carries the seeds of its own demise, that life is inherently tragic, repetitive or limited, is unthinkable, if not downright evil, according to progressive metaphysics.

On the subject of wealth and metaphysics, I’ve found that the more “diabolical” I’ve been in life, the more successful I’ve been, and the more of a “do-gooder”, the poorer I’ve been. I have a theory that this world might actually be ruled by the Devil as the Bible suggests, and people like Musk, who seem supernaturally lucky and wealthy, are actually in league, knowingly or not, with the Lord of this World. It’s just a theory, but it has a lot of supporting evidence.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Alfred: Excesses USED to be a vice in days when people starved to death when one of them was gluttonous. Show me the starving masses now.

Seeking power USED to lead to vice in days when bloody conquest was common and politics was a blood sport. Show me the massacres now.

Be careful what you ask for, Alfred; you just might get it. But looking at the Earth as a whole, neither the famines nor the massacres are over; they just happen in more out-of-the-way spots and people don't look very hard at them. Pull up STRATFOR on any given day and you'll see what I mean.

"They even had the code of ethics rigged in such a way that the peasants (the most numerous social class) thought that good behavior would be rewarded in the after life."

Which is simply the Vedic caste-system without the reincarnation-as-a-cockroach part. The Indo-Europeans spread that general notion so far across Eurasia that you have to hunt for the societies that *didn't* start out that way.

Wanting power is universal; everyone has their own ideas on what should be done, and power is how you get it. 'I want the power to claim resources and craft a knife.' 'I want the power to organize women and claim the right to vote.' And so on. Insatiable powerlust is the problem. Even Musk is satiable -- he has huge dreams, but they have purposes above and beyond the chemical balance of his neurotransmitters.

"Cheating and killing are wrong enough to justify head lopping. Getting rich isn't."
The problem throughout history has generally been that when things get bad enough to drag out tumbrels, the ability to make such fine distinctions is generally lost. You may have the right theory, but how do you make it work out that way?

@Duffy: You've put your thumb on the real source of ire. It's the age-old story of the bloodline brother enraged that the half-brother and/or adopted stepbrother are getting an even share of the estate. How old? Read Genesis, chapter 21, and tell me. Fascism isn't fundamentally driven by immigration; it's driven by what the privileged see as their collective weakness compared to their perceptions of promised power -- and demography can't be hidden as a secret weakness.

The immigration is a natural result of demographic shifts, but the privileged rage against the tide as if it were a condemnation of their identity. The deep irony is that the Founders' vision deliberately avoided this trap, making naturalization easy and normal to the point that even fascists can't deny we are "a nation of immigrants"; they can't claim to want more than that the Right Sort is to be allowed in and the Wrong Sort kept out. In the long run, this never works. The Chinese couldn't stop the Mongols no matter how great their wall, and the Mongols couldn't stop being Sinicized once they conquered. Norman and Saxon -- can you tell them apart now? How about Gauls and Franks? Could the Vedic priests keep Islam out, or the Muslims keep out Christian influence?

Catfish 'n Cod said...

As for capitalism itself, it simply cannot function in a world of declining and aging populations - because there is no such thing as no-growth capitalism.

Ah, but there doesn't need to be no-growth capitalism; what's needed is sustainable growth. What is sustainable? It's what increasing technology, ability, productivity, efficiency, and collection of outside resources get you. Growth does not end.

But logarithmic growth must end. I don't mean in the moral sense; no log curve lasts forever, be it PCR replication or explosive nuclear chain reaction; reproduction of bacteria or of primates. Space resources would only buy a few centuries more for eternal-rate-of-return economics; the fundamental problem is that the total human population is now only growing linearly, not exponentially, and economics must one day face up to numeric reality. We are already starting to see what the unholy devotees of Growth Forever would have to do to continue their quest for consumption: turn on and devour the rest of us.

Oligarchic capitalism is economic cancer. And unless you hunt it down ruthlessly, cancer will always come back.

'Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom' indeed.

David Brin said...

Sorry guys. Gotta run. You deal with Treebeard's obsessive mantra incantation to deny the existence of Positive Sum. It sounds pretty frantic to me. Like a person who was born blind yelling that all talk of this "sight" thing is a big fat hoax!

Cari Burstein said...

I don't think Treebeard is entirely wrong in some of what he describes. Often some of our best progress comes from having challenges that drive us (both at the personal and societal level). Motivation is a tricky thing. One could argue much of historical progress in technology has come from the needs generated by hard times, especially wars.

That being said, the hard times also split our focus, drain our resources and make it difficult to tackle other things which require attention. So it's a difficult balance between the need to stay motivated and to have the spare resources and time to tackle problems. This is likely a factor in why we do have somewhat cyclical experiences between progress and backwards movement.

Of course the big thing that keeps us from moving too far backwards is that we can build on all the things we have already achieved, which saves us a lot of the scrabbling previous generations have gone through.

The other thing Treebeard says that is partly true, is that in general it does seem to benefit the individual to be "diabolical" if what they see as success is primarily measured in power and worldly goods. This is at the individual level. However societies as a whole don't function as well if everyone is only out for themselves and there is too much concentration of power and wealth in the wrong hands, and there are definitely histories of that leading to the people who had all that power and wealth finding it's not too useful when the populace revolts. A society does better when there is a more equitable balancing of resources and rights.

Positive sum is very real, but people who can only see value in their own pile of loot likely don't value its effects very highly since they are often focused on how much better they're doing than their neighbors.

Larry Hart said...


I have a theory that this world might actually be ruled by the Devil as the Bible suggests,

It's not a novel theory. Both Dave Sim and CS Lewis have proposed variations on it. Lewis says we earthlings are in enemy-occupied territory, and that un-fallen spirits may rule other worlds. Sim's version has a female Adversary who is actually the YHWH of the Bible, and who only thinks that she is the same entity as God.

Kurt Vonnegut too, although his version is that Satan is actually giving mankind pleasant distractions to help us get through this thing called life, which an ineffable God refuses to explain to His creations.

TCB said...

Treebeard: On the subject of wealth and metaphysics, I’ve found that the more “diabolical” I’ve been in life, the more successful I’ve been, and the more of a “do-gooder”, the poorer I’ve been.

Yeah, that's called greed. Of COURSE it works. For YOU. For NOW.

Paradoctor said...


Your four-phase cycle theory of men and their times is like a steam engine translated into Seldonian psychohistory. It can be explained as two variables in a cycle:

Success destroys merit;
Demerit destroys success;
Failure creates merit;
Merit creates success.

So merit and success oscillate out of phase, like the pegs on a rectilinear reciprocator. (The "do-nothing machine".) But the cycle need not be in vain; it may propel change in other variables. In an evolutionary context, variation is maximum when success lets mutant variants spread, and selection is maximum when failure weeds out the unfit. So a merit-success cycle can power evolution.

The cycles of history are not perfectly circular; they never end exactly where they began. Maybe it's chaotic, maybe it's a spiral.

As for the tactical success of being diabolical, that's explainable naturalistically, as a social dilemma. If everyone's diabolical, then society falls; if everyone's a do-gooder, then society rises; and if some are diabolical and others are do-gooders, then the diabolical win. This system naturally tends towards the fall of society; what to do? The game-theory solution is to put some feedback in the system, some natural or artificial karma to reward do-gooders with their own good, and punish the diabolical with their own wickedness. That's the Silver Rule: do unto others as they have done unto you. So bless the do-gooders and curse the diabolical!

Alfred Differ said...

Der Oger,

You offered useful examples of starving people, so now I'll take the next step and show how my point works.

It's not that starving masses do not exist. It's that when they do, you can find the ACTUAL sin and deal with it.

The hungry in San Antonio are in a manufactured situation driven for political purposes. There is no way any US person (citizen or not) has to be hungry. If they are, they have either chosen a path that leads there or someone else forced the situation. There is no luck to it if you live here. No in-between. If you can't feed yourself, someone IS to blame. How does that make my point? It's not their money that is leading to hunger where it need not be. Billionaires might be driving it, but their money is a tool. It is they who are committing the evil. Take the money and we solve nothing that isn't temporary. It is the evil, cheating bastard who must face consequences… not his money.

The hungry in Yemen are in a manufactured situation too. It is the one that someone from your part of the world should know FAR better than my ignorant neighbors. Pre-unification Germany is where everyone went to fight, rape, and pillage. Tell me that isn't happening in Yemen. Their hunger is manufactured by the evils of those with war and conquest aims. VERY common through human history. Is their money to blame? Nope. Would taking it help? Sure. Who would you like to have take it?

The entire world is wealthier than it has ever been. Hunger got knocked from his horse for a reason. We are (on average) too rich to starve anymore. It can be forced upon us by those immensely richer, but that's what it takes now. A HUMAN has to make a choice that causes starvation somewhere. Stalin starved millions. So did Mao. The list of people who did is long. The one for those who still are isn't empty. Taking their money doesn't solve the real evil being done.

Within the US, there are a number of billionaires. Quite a few. If they are being evil, then I want people to SHOW ME the evil. I'll judge. I might even agree, but I'm FAR more likely to punish them directly than I am to apply a bandage that pretends to heal the wound they cause.

Outside the US, there are a number of billionaires. Many more. If they are being evil, I want it shown so everyone can see. Our host's drive for transparency matters more on this stage because having someone like me judge non-US persons becomes problematic. What am I expected to do? Who chose us as the world's morality police? There ARE things I'm willing to do, but I'm a barbarian at heart. My impulse is to smash evil-doers. That probably shouldn't be The West's first response to every evil action.

So… show me the starving masses and I'll point to the evil people who should be smashed. I won't point at their money that should be stolen unless that is the only option available. I hate that solution because it usually feeds money to OTHER people with insatiable appetites. Smash the evil-doers! Paladins to the rescue! Pfft. The world is FAR better off with US persons contemplating whether we like baseball or US football better.

So… show me the modern massacres and I'll point out our next opportunity for a crusade.

Money isn't the evil to be crushed.

Alfred Differ said...

Catfish 'n Cod,

I realize now that I was a little too loose with how I worded things up stream. I know the famines and massacres aren't over. As a proportion of the population, they are greatly diminished by our Enlightenment wealth, but they aren't gone.

I was a regular STATFOR reader a few years ago and still dip my toe in to pick up a non-mass media description of what might be happening somewhere. I used to enjoy reading George Friedman's material the most. He had a way of cutting through the fog to what was happening at the ground level where the media was VERY unlikely to notice it. I still recall some of his descriptions for how his approach actually worked. It was all very 'human intel' dependent. When I say Americans (US flavor) are barbarians, I'm using Friedman's definition for it.

Insatiable powerlust is the problem.

I ALMOST agree. About 90%. My issue is that it still matters what one does with all that power. You can be insatiable and still be ineffective. I know some libertarians who want very impressive levels of power, but y'all won't give it to them. They'd tell you what to do if they had it, though. Trust me on it. Fortunately, they are ineffective. I actually agree with a lot of what they want, but I won't ask y'all for the power to make it happen. I'm satiable AND ineffective. (Fortunate for the world)

The danger is with insatiable types… who do real harm. It's the harm that we should be addressing. If they can't do that, they'll fuss and foam like my friends among the libertarians who are upset people are telling them to wear masks. They might annoy you, but there's not much you can do about that without… doing real harm.

…the ability to make such fine distinctions is generally lost…

Yes. Exactly why I'm in a snit right now. Some people here who I honestly like want to pour blood into the streets for exactly the wrong reasons. No good billionaires? Bullshit. I won't use the usual 'envy' argument about wealth because it is dehumanizing of people I honestly like. I shall point out the utter stupidity of their proposed solution. The French washed their streets in blood every day for how long during their revolution and accomplished what? Amazing things happened. Impressive advancements occurred. So did Napoleon. Gah!

Getting rich isn't the problem. Doing evil is. Crusading against evil can be just as evil if we fail to remember history. The abyss can look back.

Alfred Differ said...


He doesn't need "the best engineers". He needs decent, talented engineers who are motivated to solve problems never solved before. He has a few of those teams now. People come and go on them, but some of them are pretty damn good.

I've been a working 'engineer' of the software variety for a long time now. Long enough to know that real brilliance from one of us can be easily eclipsed by performance from a moderately good team that can work together effectively. Musk manages to get people to do that rather well. He also has a way of burning them out, so he's far from perfect. Oh well.

You are very welcome to judge him as you chose, but you are failing at the fine art of being persuasive.

SpaceX now has a full-flow staged-combustion engine running methalox they get to fly long enough to learn how to improve it. The Merlin engines were pretty neat in terms of innovation, but their teams now have experience and confidence at doing what engineers do best when they can learn from mistakes. They did that with the Merlins.

Breaking the defense contractor monopoly on US space launch was important, but it's the engineering process within SpaceX that actually matters. It is that process that produced the Raptor… and that changes everything. Reusable kerolox engines expand our economy into cis-lunar space. Reusable methalox gets us the inner solar system.

Alfred Differ said...

Don Gisselbeck,

If that means our progress is a bit slower because innovations are made by people not motivated by greed, that's a small price to pay.

How do you know who they are?

I have no issue with declaring greed a vice and punishing it.
My issue is that we don't always agree on who displays this vice.

When we DO agree, the solution is simple, but that simple solution best not be used on people for whom we do NOT agree.

You won't constipate the golden goose. You'll kill her.

Alfred Differ said...

I have a theory that this world might actually be ruled by the Devil...

Ha! That's a centuries old heresy. VERY old. Any Christian theologian types here want to name it? It's that one that says we are already living in Hell.

DP said...

More on declining demographics

Asia Population Peaks by 2040 Under 5 Billion
Recent census for India and China have reported sharper drops in birthrates even before COVID. COVID is further suppressing birthrates. India will likely only add 100-140 million people instead of 273 million. China’s population will decline more sharply. The Total Fertility Rate drop was expected to take until 2050 in Asia appears to have already happened.

India’s Population Could Peak Within 15 Years
India’s national Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has fallen below the replacement level for the first time. India’s national Total Fertility Rate has dropped 1.6 in cities and to 2.1 in rural areas. The TFR was found to be 2.2 in the NFHS 2015-16 survey and 2.7 in the NFHS 2005-06 survey... India was adding over 18 million people per year in 2005 but in 2020 this dropped to adding 13 million. A persistent lower fertility could see the population peak around 2035 to 2040 instead of after 2050 in older projections.

Everyone's birthrates are crashing - except for Africa's. If these trends continue and the majority of working age adults live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2100, then Africa becomes the future center of human civilization and economic growth.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth, if it follows these projections, will likely have important geopolitical repercussions. Today, the region is home to more than 877 million people, or roughly 12 in every 100 people on Earth. In 2100, the medium-variant projection for sub-Saharan population is 3.36 billion people, or one in every three people on the planet. Such an increase in human capital could be a major asset, but whether or not economies can grow quickly enough to accommodate it – as well as provide the number of new schools, hospitals, infrastructure projects, and other services that will be needed in general – will be a crucial challenge.

DP said...

World population will peak faster and fall quicker than anticipated, due to the effects of educating young women.

The best news of 2020? Humanity may never hit the 10 billion mark
While watching 2020 unfold has been like watching someone set themself on fire with a bucket of bacon grease and a firecracker, one morning I stumbled on something that made me smile, and then jump for joy: A new study found that the global human population might peak at just under 10 billion people in the 2060s before tapering off to 8.8 billion by 2100.

What miracle could achieve such a slowdown in human reproduction after a century of smack-yourself-in-the-face runaway growth? It’s not war, or nuclear holocaust, or plague (COVID-19, as tragic as its mishandling has been by certain governments, will do little to slow down population growth). It’s two things, both wonderfully non-violent: women’s education, and access to birth control.

The new findings, published in the medical journal The Lancet, differ from other population forecasts, most importantly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNPD) and the Wittgenstein Centre, by predicting that the global population will peak sooner than expected and fall quicker than anticipated (though still, by 2100, the Earth would house more humans than the 7.8 billion of us here today).

This was good news. No, no, this was freaking great news. Because if this research — which made some clever shifts in how it analyzed the data and predicted the future — could be believed, it could mean that Planet Earth, in all its ecological glory, might just survive our current devastating onslaught and begin to recover in the coming centuries. Assuming we, of course, actually deal with climate change. A big assumption.

DP said...

"DD That is a poor basis to choose con-man."

How about "hypocrite".

Someone needs to inform Elon that it's bad form to bitch about additional taxes on billionaires when he would never have become a billionaire in the first place with $4.9 billion in subsidies courtesy of the American tax payer.

DP said...

"I hope you will suddenly be tempted by great wealth."

There is an even better line from "Fiddler on the Roof"

Perchik: Money is the world's curse.

Tevye: Then may the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!

DP said...

Catfish: Investors prefer logarithmic/exponential growth to sustainable growth - it has a much higher ROI.

Larry Hart said...

Cari Burstein:

in general it does seem to benefit the individual to be "diabolical" if what they see as success is primarily measured in power and worldly goods.

If selfishness motivates you, then selfish actions breed success. If evil motivates you, then evil actions breed success. It's practically a tautology.

That touches on my own (secular) speculation of what afterlife might be like. There's no separate Heaven or Hell that "good people" or "bad people" go to. Rather, everyone has the same afterlife, but you spend it knowing without illusion or evasion just exactly who and what you are. If you're the kind of person who can look yourself in they eyes in the mirror without flinching, then it feels like Heaven. If you cringe or despair at the waste you made of your life, then it feels like Hell.

Robert said...

I can never tell if Elon Musk is a genius or a con man.

After learning this week that his fortune is based on $4.9 billion in subsidies courtesy of the American taxpayer, I'm going to go with con man.

Subsidies he now says shouldn't exist.

The economist Ha-Joon Chang calls this 'pulling up the ladder' — benefiting from a measure until one is successful, then demanding it be ended so others can't share the same success. Not idea if that's an official term in economics or just a good metaphor.

Doesn't make him any more a con man than any other businessman who does the same thing. Which you could interpret as saying that a great many businessmen are con men, and I wouldn't disagree, but it is sound business ethics according to those I know in business.

Robert said...

Show me the massacres now.

Sudan. Rwanda. Sri Lanka. The Yaziidi. The Rohingya. et bloody cetera.

The fact that you don't see them in the headlines doesn't mean they don't happen.

David Brin said...

No need to get complicated in answering Treebeard’s cycles-of-decadence mantra. It’s a lunatic, masturbatory incantation that has never been right, even once, across human history. As I show here:

Do Kings and dynasties sometimes cycle like that? Sure.

And there are Attractor States that routinely suck nations in, especially the one that has our ent’s reflexive “see Kyle” devotion: feudal rule by brutal lords and their spoiled inheritance brats, who thereupon wreak chaos and decline with the malgovernance that has always been the bitter fruit of feudalism.

But attractor states and feudal malgovernance are not the same thing as the insipid “cycles” delusion, which are spread by apologists and shills FOR oligarchy, who chant that it is the active, vigorously creative middle classes who are the decadent ones, because they believe and work for positive sums.

Larry Hart said...


The economist Ha-Joon Chang calls this 'pulling up the ladder' — benefiting from a measure until one is successful, then demanding it be ended so others can't share the same success.

A tale as old as time. Clarence Thomas denouncing any sort of Affirmative Action, without which he would not be on the supreme court. Paul Ryan trying to kill Social Security after being raised on it.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

But attractor states and feudal malgovernance are not the same thing as the insipid “cycles” delusion, which are spread by apologists and shills FOR oligarchy, who chant that it is the active, vigorously creative middle classes who are the decadent ones, because they believe and work for positive sums.

I've spent too much of my lifetime listening to that "Protestant Work Ethic" crap which asserts that any time spent away from toil is decadent and harmful to society. Most decent people will work their asses off in an "all hands on deck" mode during a crisis which requires it, but when such crises end, it's time to decompress a bit and catch up on rest and food. The idea that we're somehow letting society down by taking some time to enjoy the fruits of labor rather than laboring until we drop is more than absurd. It is evil.

scidata said...

If zero-sum / 'diabolical' success / history-as-cyclical mentality wins out, then we're all dead men walking. That's the primary theme in CB across the several years I've been here and presumably long, long before. Whether in the context of romanticism, politics, or the Fermi paradox. More recently, Covid has provided another sandbox experiment with the same conclusions. As Aldous Huxley put it, facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

This is not a philosophical debate about Pollyanna-ish naivete (that would be pleasant and even amusing). It's about existence, plain and simple. Jacob Marley's words were not aimed just at one selfish old fool. I ploughed through MOTHER NIGHT (the 1996 Nick Nolte film). I'm guessing it had Vonnegut's blessing because he actually makes a cameo appearance. It has the same feel as ON THE BEACH (1959) - a horrible, self-inflicted shambling to oblivion, but played out through a single life. The Howard Campbell and George Will parallel is a bit of a stretch, but I do get the point. CITOKATE - the favourite drink of the civilized world.

David Brin said...

Scidata well said.

Larry Hart said...


a horrible, self-inflicted shambling to oblivion, but played out through a single life. The Howard Campbell and George Will parallel is a bit of a stretch, but I do get the point.

I can only speak to Mother Night the novel, which may or may not reflect the movie. Caveat emptor.

To me, the Howard Campbell character more resembles Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity--that is, if their ravings were a pretense by which to trick FOX into having them on the air while they passed secretly-coded information along to the good guys on those broadcasts. And just as Campbell's Nazi father-in-law noted of Campbell at their parting, it doesn't matter if Tucker or Hannity are really authoritarian terrorists or just pretend to be in order to keep their tv spots for some higher purpose. Because the damage they are doing is just as real either way.

Der Oger said...

So… show me the modern massacres and I'll point out our next opportunity for a crusade.

Money isn't the evil to be crushed.

Robert has already provided good examples, I'd add the endemic gun violence in the USA and the Mexican Drug Cartel wars (which have spilled over to the Netherlands a bit in the last years.)

Otherwise, I agree on money not being the evil. Yet, it enables people doing evil stuff with it, causing much harm in the wrong hands; and it allows them to gain protection from the consequences of their evil. Being to able to afford a better lawyer, influencing favorable legislature, and to buy doomsday bunkers all fall in this latter category. There is no simple, tidy solution to it*, the process requires painful compromises again and again. No human mind can imagine a game that cannot be rigged in any way, people just become better at cheating.

The danger is that because the process is so slow and there will always be cheaters and sometimes loss of goals already achieved throws progress back a few decades, you will eventually loose people investing in this process (i.e voting, believing or otherwise participating) and maybe look for other options.

*I would say simple solutions to complex problems are never tidy. Go, ask Louis XVI.

Nice you mentioned D&D. I find it noteworthy that even the noble, righteous paladin advanced in experience levels (=power) less by slaying monsters, but more by finding and looting their treasures. :-) Still, one of the better game mechanics to measure character progression objectively.

Der Oger said...

@Musk: It could get interesting for his Giga Factory in the state of Brandenburg, near Berlin. Apparently, he did not wait until all concessions to build that factory were granted, and there are hundreds of objections to the construction site (which sits in a protected water reservoir. Also, he will use 12-13% of that state's water, which is also notorious for forest fires and droughts.

He will start full production there early next year (target is 500.000 Teslas per year), test runs already underway. It is very likely the state government grants these concessions and deflects the objections(the state is still underdeveloped when compared to the western states, and jobs still beat environmental concerns there). Yet, if the objections enter the system of the administrative courts, it could happen that Musk will have to scrap that project well after he has produced millions of cars there. On the high sea and in the courts, you're at god's mercy, as they say.

Alfred Differ said...

Der Oger,

Heh. I like D&D a great deal. I played through much of the 80's and a bit in the early 90's under the original v1.0 rules… with one very important variation. I wouldn't play under GM's (let alone be one) that awarded experience strictly by the rules. Experience for gold for a monk? Nonsense. For a paladin it really SHOULD have been related to the character's goals and the player's understanding of how they were achieving them. Straight formula use was a dumb idea.

The first character I got to play under a GM that understood this was a cleric of a trickster god. I got experience based on how well the character served that god's interests. Gold? Sure. Rather useful. Sneaky tricks? MUCH better. Awareness by me the player of how I was doing it (documented on the battle sheets and correspondence) was the real way to advance.

Anyway… a Paladin really should be able to fight evil EFFECTIVELY. That means distinguishing targets from distractions and measuring the success of their techniques. Same goes for all the other character classes… because that's closer to how real life actually works. If one is going to role play a character, it sure helps to know that sensible techniques will produce sensible results. Luck plays a role, of course, but should not dominate unless fully intended by someone in the game.

I can put on my 'paladin helm' and recognize that gold just one way to trace a path to evil-doers. Plenty of evil is done by poor people too. I'd argue that most of it is, but the rich man can amplify his evil by hiring (at best) amoral henchmen. Strip him of his money and one mitigates the damage done, but fails to remediate it.

If I put on my 'enlightenment civilization enthusiast' hat instead, much of that translates with little change. Big pieces gets added, though.
1) What constitutes 'evil' should not be decided by a tiny few.
2) Stopping cheaters MUST be done ex post facto. Cheating will happen and we learn from it to stop repetition. We will never, ever, ever stop cheating ex ante.
3) Tolerance of evil is not acceptance of it. It is quite possible to overreact to a minor evil and create a worse one.

Of the two characters, I find the paladin fun to play occasionally and the member of a great civilization worth becoming.

Alfred Differ said...

Between Robert and Der Oger we've got a growing list for massacres that we can use to test the belief that removing the opportunity to remain a billionaire will work in the future to prevent more massacres.

Sudan (Let us focus on the Darfur genocide)
Rwanda (Let us focus on the Tutsi genocide)
Sri Lanka (Tamil genocide)
Yazidi Persecution (Kurdish homeland)
The Rohingya (and the broader conflict between Hindus and Muslims)

Der Oger's
Endemic gun violence in the USA
Mexican Drug Cartel Violence

Ponder these lists for a moment and a few patters pop to the top of mind immediately. The list from Der Oger is mostly about crime. Robert's list goes deeper into inter-culture and civil wars.

Now take the next step and see if you can name billionaires responsible for these things. Whether you could make charges stick in court of not, imagine yourself able to strip the money from billionaires by magic. Who would you strip (given 20/20 hindsight) to stop these deaths?

My view on Robert's list

If you think stripping money from people will stop Hindus and Muslims from killing each other in some parts of the world you are utterly unaware of how deep their hatreds run. Strip all the money you want and they'd sharpen sticks to carry on. Want to help them? Help them join our civilization even if that means helping them relocate.

If you think you can stop genocides in the Fertile Crescent you are utterly delusional. That cradle of civilization has known genocide since the first cities were born shortly after the ice melted. I don't care how many you impoverish trying to stop them. The only methods we've seen work were horrible fascist states that applied a short-term band-aid. Want to help them? Guess what? Help them join our civilization. Spend your wealth accordingly AND DIRECTLY. Don't give it to fascist bastards like Saddam was.

Sudan, Rwanda, and every other place where tribes have been at war since before recorded history… Guess what? Help get them out of there. You can't impoverish them enough to stop it, so stop trying. Try the inverse instead. Get them into the world markets so they have something they treasure more than the righteous indignation they feel for tragedies immortal.

Don't think this can work? Well. Europes tribes used to slaughter each other in huge numbers too. Especially the barbarians roaming the flatlands stretching from from Channel to North Sea to the Baltic.

My view on Der Oger's list

Ha ha ha! If you think stripping billionaires of cash will stop Americans from loving guns, you don't know us. We love alcohol too and tried to ban that about a century ago. Didn't work. Instead we funded illegal cash into… dig this… our own drug cartels. We wanted alcohol bad enough we were willing to fund some very evil men to provide it. What do you all suppose we'd do if anyone tried to prohibit guns? Hmm?

Mexican citizens suffer a most terrible fate being so close to us. Their cartel violence is mostly our fault. We've gone and done something truly stupid in prohibiting something many of us want bad enough to pay very evil men to provide it. This time the providers are across the border in a land that isn't rich enough to kill them all. Which billionaires should we behead to deal with this, hmm? I'd like to know. I'd LOVE to pin this evil on someone and screw them back. Name them. Please.

duncan cairncross said...

Name them. Please.

The ones responsible for the Mexican problem are mostly dead - the biggest responsibility goes to one Richard Nixon

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The actual villains are all dead or very old

HOWEVER their successors benefiting from the horror and maintaining it are still alive

I would include 90% of GOP politicians on that list

I would also include the Koch brothers as part of the enablers

Der Oger said...

@ Alfred

Which billionaires should we behead to deal with this, hmm?

The Drug Lords and, more importantly, the Bankers involved in money-laundering. Targeting the money flows should have the higher priority in law enforcement than targeting addicts and low-level dealers. Legalizing drugs destroys their markets. Confiscate real estates and luxury cars and other toys. Oh, and regulate companies like Purdue Pharma and sue families like the Sacklers into oblivion.

You are probably right with the rest of your assumptions.

My point is, never allow an individual to have more influence than the state. Keep the state free of their grasp. If you want to keep a free, lawful and democratic society you must keep them in check, in one way or another.

Think of the following scenario: Your country burns again, just like it did last year, only worse. In this situation, a billionaire owner of a security and defense contractor company offers to send in his mercenaries to restore order (which he has prepared exactly for this type of intervention), backed up with intelligence assets he owns. Since the state's own forces are exhausted and spreaded thin, they accept. After weeks of blood and fire in the streets, peace is restored. The political opposition, including those pesky independent, leftist media has been put to the wall. For a short time, the billionaire is that governments hero and they expect him to give the power back. Only he does not, and turns on them. Or allies with other strongmen and forms a loose, informal alliance dominating the government.

Maybe billionaires should be watched very closely, as closely as extremist groups of any shade are watched.

Robert said...

Alfred, you're moving the goalposts.

I replied to your comment about power: "Seeking power USED to lead to vice in days when bloody conquest was common and politics was a blood sport. Show me the massacres now."

I showed you massacres.

Now your reply is "Now take the next step and see if you can name billionaires responsible for these things."

My answer is that you wrote that seeking power used to lead to vice, and asked to be shown massacres. Seeking power apparently still leads to vice (and massacres).

You might argue that money and power are different, but that isn't the way we've structured our society. To get political power you generally need a lot of money behind you. Here's a breakdown of where that comes from in your country:

There was a recent study (which I can't locate a link for now) which showed that in terms of legislation, the US Congress backed their donors over their voters almost all the time. Which indicates to me that money translates to power. And we've all seen laws passed favouring certain industries, so power also translates to money.

Individual names will be hard to get, because the system is set up to obscure them. Still, you've heard of the Koch brothers? Rupert Murdoch?

“I’m not sure that the Blair government or Tony Blair would have been able to take the British people to war if it hadn’t been for the implacable support provided by the Murdoch papers. There’s no doubt that came from Mr Murdoch himself.”

It was billionaires who relentlessly off-shored American jobs in pursuit of higher profits, which hollowed out the middle class. It was billionaires who relentlessly crushed unions. It was billionaires who pushed opioids. How much suffering have the Waltons and Sacklers caused? (That's over 100,000 deaths a year, 1/3 from legally-prescribed drugs that were manufactured and sold at a profit.)

Who caused the financial crisis of a decade ago? Who got their bonuses and stock options, and who suffered?

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

The actual villains are all dead or very old

HOWEVER their successors benefiting from the horror and maintaining it are still alive

One might start with Jeff Sessions and his whole "Only bad people use marijuana" line of argument.

Larry Hart said...


There was a recent study (which I can't locate a link for now) which showed that in terms of legislation, the US Congress backed their donors over their voters almost all the time.

We hardly need studies to show us what we already know. Look at the one and only policy bill the Republicans were able to pass when they last had Congress and the White House--the tax break for billionaires and corporations. It was so unpopular even among the Republicans' own voters that those Republicans had to avoid constituents like the plague, lest they be forced to listen to a tongue-lashing. But their donors told them to get it done so they did.

David Brin said...


David Brin said...