Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A drunkard's walk amid silly people... Left and Right

Okay, this blog entry is going to be a bit rambling and angry... somewhat of a drunkard's walk, while ranting at the lamp posts! Hope it at least entertains. Here goes.

bullshit-asymmetry-brandoliniWe’ve all known this and said it for a long time. I laid it out in explicit detail in my Disputations Arenas. Still, it’s nice to see a cogent naming of the phenomenon -- Brandolini’s law - or, as Alberto Brandolini suggests, the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle:
"The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it."
== Heading for war? ==
On the left side of the spectrum, and in some places on the right, folks are asking whether "Obama is playing into Bush's bad policies. Now he's taking the U.S. back into Iraq with more bombing."
democrats-republicans-wage-warSorry, this is a wrongheaded reflex. Back in 2002 - 2003, the issue was never "should Saddam Hussein be toppled and replaced?" Nor was it "should the Taliban - who supported and helped bin Laden to attack us be toppled and replaced?" 

We needed to do both things. (Though in Saddam's case it deserved genuine policy debate and not a festival of Bushite lies.)
No, the real issue, re U.S. involvement/meddling over there, is and was "should it be done in the stupidest and most expensive ways possible? In a calamitous, gruesomely thuggish methodology that would cost us trillions, damn-near ruin our military and our reputations and leave only two winners: Iran and Haliburton?"
If you actually (astonishingly) think that there will be any resemblance between the coming Obama-led engagement and the Bushite quagmires, you really need to read about the diametrically opposite ways that Democrats and Republicans wage war.
==Decaying Infrastructure== 
decaying-infrastructureAnd so the drunkard turns and veers in another direct, to rant that --

America's transportation infrastructure, once a continental engine of mobility, productivity and opportunity, has fallen into such disrepair that it's become an economic albatross. Consumers shell out billions of dollars for extra car repairs every year. Insufficient and poorly maintained roads mean costly bottlenecks for businesses, which discourage expansion and hobble American companies competing in the global economy. We all have heard of 60,000 bridges in desperate need of maintenance. Why is almost nothing being done?
BUDGET-DEFICITAt a time of steeply declining budget deficits (always true during democratic administrations and never true during GOP ones) it might seem simple to put middle class blokes back to work, stimulating the economy with high velocity cash while fixing the damaged streets and bridges and getting tons of benefits. One obstacle though. The do-nothing US House of Representatives… the laziest and least accomplished in the history of the republic… has refused to fund infrastructure repairs.
Moreover, several gopper congressfolk have openly admitted their reason — that the resulting improvements and economic boost might help democrats at the polls. It is the Hastert Rule. Never cooperate or negotiate in good faith with democrats, ever. (The last GOP leader who did negotiate - Newt Gingrich - managed to put together with Bill Clinton both the highly successful Welfare Reform Bill and the Budget Bill that led to several years of fiscal surpluses. But Gingrich was dumped and jettisoned for that very reason by Hastert, DeLay, Boehner and other leaders of the madness that has taken over today’s Republican Party.)
Anyone who continues to support this mutant betrayal of true conservatism/libertarianism is a rationalizing fool.

Let's see... any other lamp-posts to yell at?  Oh yes....
 ==War against Nerds==
war-against-nerdsSalon runs a fun article eviscerating how explicit has become the mad-right’s Assault on Nerds. It has got so clear and full-pitch that even William F. Buckley’s once-intellectual National Review has joined the War Against All Smartypants. Scientists and members of every knowledge caste have been driven out of today’s hijacked version of conservatism. God help us if this relentless campaign drives them all the way across -- past moderate liberalism -- all the way to the opposite madness on the far left.
sensible-problemsI doubt that will happen. All we want is a sensible society where adults negotiate with each other mixed-pragmatic solutions to problems, aiming for a future that will be vastly better than the past that nostalgic loonies (of both the far-left and the entire-right) yearn for. Is that too much to ask?
More evidence?  In late May, the Republicans in the House put an amendment in the Defense Spending Authorization Bill that forbids the Defense Department from spending any money preparing for the consequences of climate change. This article -- House Votes to Deny Climate Science and Ties Pentagon's Hands on Climate Change - on an admittedly liberal site - nevertheless lays this latest lunacy bare and lists an impressive array of serving and retired officers and military contractors who are deeply concerned.


The Bill is now in the Senate.
One of you in the community commented: “Our military wargames all kinds of scenarios. Preparedness is part of the job of our military planners, and having a plan prepared is the first step to winning a fight. I expect that somewhere the US military has a plan to deal with a threat from just about any conceivable direction. Oh, but not waves of hungry and thirsty refugees from all over the world, not that. We cannot plan for that contingency.”

denialismTo be clear, as we speak both the Canadian and US navies are struggling as fast as they can, to build capabilities to match the twelve  new military bases the Russians are building around the Arctic Sea, now that it is ice-free or navigable for much of the year. Denialism is a cult that borders on treason.

Ah... but now the drunkard does one of his patented veers... and aims some of his ire in the other direction!
==Divisive Politics==
HaidtSocial psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues have thrown another grenade. “Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity-particularly diversity of viewpoints-for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity.”
Read that between the lines.  It is an indictment of the political correctness that rules in several hundred university soft studies departments.  Along with San Francisco, Berkeley and Illinois, these are the places where you get to see the reason why moderate liberals are rightfully wary of their lefty allies.  And I will not be squelched in reminding you folks that there is danger there!  I remember campus lefty bullies.  I remember the Soviet evil empire (that was fought so effectively by George Soros.)  Just because the US right is currently more dangerous and crazy, that does not mean we can ignore warnings like the one issued by Haight.

But again... a few hundred university soft studies departments are a far cry from the worst danger to our republic and freedoms and planet. True, they hate and persecute science fiction!  That is one good reason to glance, askance at those allies of ours.
I am wary of that direction. But I am bloody furious at the New Confederates who are (at present) vastly more damaging and lethally dangerous to civilization.  For example...
==  Where are the Chicken Littles hiding, all of a sudden? ==

HEALTH-CARE-REFORMI predicted that, once the tepid and minimal “healthcare reform” called “Obamacare” kicked in, it would start applying market forces that would work fairly well, reducing both the ranks of the uninsured and the rates of increase of US medical costs… all of which is happening.  At which point (I also predicted) GOP pundits  - who had been proclaiming the sky would fall and America would collapse into the stone age - would simply DROP the subject, hoping that their viewers would forget their chicken little end-of-the-world ravings. (And given their viewership, that amnesia is pretty much guaranteed.)

 Indeed, I said that after using this “issue” to lock down and destroy all political processes in the United States of America, that suddenly GOP politicians would start pragmatically adapting to the ACA and even… claiming it as their own.

Which… they are somewhat justified to do!  Since “Obamacare” was cloned from “Romneycare” and “Gingrich-care” and the standard, Heritage-Foundation-designed Republican Healthcare proposal on every GOP platform for ten years.  Watch as that fact is suddenly remembered!  But do not let them forget the hell they put us through, the hysterics and frozen American political life.  The screeching.

== Ironies abound ==

sovereign-citizensMy sci fi author colleague John Shirley dissects “sovereign citizen”… a cult-like movement among those who take the anti-government wing of our widely shared Suspicion of Authority ethos to an extreme that denies any legitimacy of common bonds with three hundred million fellow Americans. 
While I agree with John, on many levels, I believe his approach is more left-versus-right than it needs to be, regarding this matter. (Indeed, while they are fewer - today - there ARE would be tyrants whose metaphors of outrage and hate come from (shall we say) the opposite direction. Surfaces can be misleading.)
In fact, it can be dissected very simply. Those who deny any validity to shared institutions that derive their legitimacy from the electoral political processes... institutions that in-turn reflect consensus of a great and educated nation ... are not simply asserting autonomy — (while hypocritically depending on that nation, utterly). They are either ignoring 6000 years of brutal feudal rule by armed thugs, or else deeply committed to becoming precisely those same armed thugs and feudal lords.
Civilization-FlashI attempted to portray this in The Postman, way back in the 1980s… and it is one part of the book that Kevin Costner translated to the film with utter accuracy! Especially Will Patton’s delightful General Bethlehem, who conveyed where all this would inevitably lead.
Indeed, I wrote The Postman specifically as a direct answer to these fellows. How average folks would not just cower before these would-be lords, but instead might (if properly inspired) rise up to restore that gracious consensus nation, once again.
Having tasted civilization, many of us will fight to the death, to keep it.
In an impromptu interview at a Portland restaurant, I gave a six minute run down of why I think the American political process has so broken down that we are effectively in phase eight of the U.S. Civil War. Not one of the factors that I mention has a scintilla to do with so-called “left-versus-right” or any of the matters that you are being told to hate-over.
==The Tea Party and the Confederacy==
And finally...

Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party -- Here’s a somewhat too-radical but interesting essay about how the Confederacy lost phase four of the Civil War, in 1865, then won phase five with the collapse of Reconstruction and minority rights, in 1877. Indeed, things have swung back and forth, ever since, including the Civil Rights phase that was won by Blue America - finally crushing the vileness of segregation - but at a cost that resulted in the complete flip-reversal of the two U.S. political parties. In that light, today’s raging “culture war” is only the latest phase.
TAXES-REVOLTClearly the Tea Party is not heir to the 1776 Founders. Their romantic delusions about that Revolution are dissected elsewhere…
… but the crux is clear; instead of wearing three-cornered hats, our Tea Party neighbors should wear gray, for they are the neo-confederate party. In fact, more and more of them are realizing this. Their devotion to the rising, worldwide oligarchy is identical to the feudal loyalty that their forebears gave to plantation lords. (Yesss Massa Koch an' Marse Rupert.) The aim - to tear down the future-oriented, change-welcoming, scientific and pragmatic Blue America, in order to replace it with classic nostalgia and feudal hierarchy - is identical to that of the southern tories who rode with Cornwallis and Tarleton.
I trace out the phases of the Civil War, from 1776 to today, here.

PHASES-CIVIL-WARWhich phase was the most important?  My own, earlier take: The crucial phase of the Civil War, phase three, started in 1852, when waves of southern irregular cavalry began 8 years of violent raids into Northern states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. This was never the “war of northern aggression.” It was the diametric opposite. And it is time to re-learn the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Picture the drunkard now, careening off into the dim night shadows, crashing into trash cans and - hoarsely - singing at the top of his lungs...

"... He hath trampled out the "newsroom" where the Fox of wrath has whored..."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Peering into the Future: AI and Robot brains

In Singularity or Transhumanism: What Word Should We Use to Discuss the Future? on Slate, Zoltan Istvan writes:

Singularity-word-cloud"The singularity people (many at Singularity University) don't like the term transhumanism. Transhumanists don't like posthumanism. Posthumanists don’t like cyborgism. And cyborgism advocates don't like the life extension tag. If you arrange the groups in any order, the same enmity occurs." 

See what the proponents of these words mean by them...
...and why the old talmudic rabbis and jesuits are probably laughing their socks off.
==Progress toward AI?== 
Baby X, a 3D-simulated human child is getting smarter day by day. Researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute Laboratory for Animate Technologies in New Zealand interact with the simulated toddler, reading, teaching, smiling, playing games, even singing into the computer's microphone and webcam. The blonde youngster mimics facial expressions, laughs, reads words, even cries when he is left alone.
1400832509352"An experiment in machine learning, Baby X is a program that imitates the biological processes of learning, including association, conditioning and reinforcement learning. By algorithmically simulating the chemical reactions of the human brain— think dopamine release or increased oxytocin levels— and connecting them with sensory digital input, when Baby X learns to imitate a facial expression, for instance, software developers write protocols for the variable time intervals between action and response. Effectively "teaching" the child through code, while engineering such a program is no cakewalk, the result is an adorably giggling digital baby with an uncanny ability to learn through interaction," writes Becket Mufson, in the Creators Project.
This is precisely the sixth approach to developing AI that is least discussed by “experts” in the field… and that I have long believed to be essential, in several ways. Above all, by raising them as our children – even fostering them to homes in small robot bodies – we will gain many crucial advantages – that I lay out (somewhat) in Existence.
Meanwhile, Cornell's Robo Brain is currently learning from the internet -- downloading and processing about 1 billion images, 120,000 YouTube videos, and 100 million how-to documents and appliance manuals, all being translated and stored in a robot-friendly format, accessible to 'helper' robots who will function in our factories, homes, and offices. “If a robot encounters a situation it hasn’t seen before it can query Robo Brain in the cloud,” said one researcher. Follow its progress on the Robobrain website.

It's coming. "You can call it a Virtual Personal Assistant, an Intelligent Agent, an Intelligent Interface or whatever you wish. We call it inevitable," writes Dag Kitlaus in A Cambrian Explosion in AI is Coming in TechCrunch. An interesting assessment of the era of the digital assistant and the likely tsunami of new variations, building upon variations.
Meet Jibo, advertised as "the world's first family robot." Kinda creepy but attractive too…
Asimov-three-laws-roboticsEver hear of “neuromorphic architecture?” Silicon chip design that uses transistors — (5 billion of them in the latest IBM chip) - to create analogues of the nonlinear response patterns of biological neurons. The latest version, from IBM, is called “True North” and it is simply spectacular. Its prodigious pattern recognition capabilities are only matched by its stunning (by four orders of magnitude(!)) power efficiency. This is where Moore’s Law, augmented by new neuronal and parallelism software, may truly start delivering.
Now… How to keep what we produce sane? And where on the chip - pray tell - do the Three Laws reside?
Ah, well… I have explored the implications (yin and yang) of the Asimovian laws in my sequel which tied up all the loose ends in Isaac’s universe – Foundation's Triumph. Meanwhile, serious minds are grappling with the problem of “how to keep them loyal." For example…
==Creating Superintelligence==
"Risks that are especially difficult to control have three characteristics: autonomy, self-replication and self-modification. Infectious diseases have these characteristics, and have killed more people than any other class of events, including war. Some computer malware has these characteristics, and can do a lot of damage...
"But microbes and malware cannot intelligently self-modify, so countermeasures can catch up. A superintelligent system [as outlined by Bostrom would be much harder to control if it were able to intelligently self-modify." writes Bostrom.
Nick Bostrom makes a persuasive case that the future impact of AI is perhaps the most important issue the human race has ever faced. Instead of passively drifting, we need to steer a course. Still, his litany of “be careful what you wish for” parables is taken straight from the pages of a century of science fictional “what-if” scenarios. Geeky sci fi archivists need to be present, during the programming, to point out: “you may want to rephrase that… cause way back in 1947 Leigh Brackett showed that it could be misconstrued as...”
== and more on "intelligence..." ==

When did homo sapiens become a more sophisticated species? Not until our skulls underwent “feminization." Interesting article! In fact the mystery of the First Great Renaissance... the burst of human creativity around 45,000 years ago... is discussed in EXISTENCE!
But -- if I may mention it -- the real correlation with this notion… that sexual selection resulted in gentler, more “feminized” males, was presaged by this paper of mine… Neoteny and Two-Way Sexual Selection in Human Evolution.
==Developing Brains==
EMPATHYResearcher Talma Hendler has found evidence for two types of empathy, each tied to a different network of brain regions. One type she calls mental empathy, which requires you to mentally step outside yourself and think about what another person is thinking or experiencing. Parts of the frontal, temporal, and parietal cortex that make up this network. The other type she calls embodied empathy; this is the more visceral in-the-moment empathy you might feel when you see someone get punched in the guts. Very cogent and thought provoking.
This interesting article in Wired explores how movies exploit both of these networks to make you identify with the characters. Only the manipulation is now going scientific!
And veering a bit... When did modern humans arrive in Europe, and by how much did they overlap with our fading cousins, the Neandertals? New studies suggest it all happened earlier than most had assumed, perhaps around ...45,000 years ago.
Now throw in.... Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain “pruning” process during development.
==and organs==
Scientists have for the first time grown a complex, fully functional organ from scratch in a living animal by transplanting cells that were originally created in a laboratory to form a replacement thymus, a vital organ of the immune system.
By deciphering the detailed gene expressions by which a lizard regrows its tail, scientists hope to re-ignite regrowth processes in mammals like us, that have been dormant for 200 million years.

 Both of these stories are straight from my story “Chrysalis” in this month’s ANALOG! Have a look and see where all this may lead!
Scientists report using laser light in ultrafast pulses to control the quantum state of electrons contained inside nanoscale defects located in a diamond, and also observe changes in that electron over a period of time. The findings could be an important milestone on the road to quantum computing.
SCIENCE-TECHNOLOGYAnother team has devised a way to make microscopes magnify 20 times more than usual. This magnification allows scientists to see and identify substances and matter as minuscule as or even smaller than a virus.
Direct synthesis of ammonia from air and water? At low temperatures and pressures? If this membrane method can bypass the usual harsh processes, the news can be significant for liberating poor farmers everywhere to make their own fertilizer.
Looks plausible… if amazing! A transparent luminescent solar concentrator developed in Michigan can be used to cover anything that has a flat, clear surface. Visible light passes through. But organic molecules absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight such as ultraviolet and near infrared, guiding those packets to the edge of the solar panel, where thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells pick it up and convert it into energy. Fascinating… another potential game changer.
what-if-munroeRecommended: what if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe (of the brilliant xkcd).
Researchers from UC San Diego's structural engineering department are using drones to capture unique views of the earthquake damage to Napa's historic landmarks. Our own Falko Kuester explains how this new tech is helping.

How to tell if a Chelyabinsk style meteorite came from an asteroid? Here's the basic rule of thumb. “The speed of whatever collides with Earth’s atmosphere depends on its orbit, which in turn depends on its source. The impactor’s entry at 19 km/s means that it came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, not from a ballistically launched missile, whose speed is less than 11.2 km/s; a short-period comet, with an average speed of 35 km/s; or a long-period comet with an average speed of 55 km/s. As investigators began retracing the path of the meteor that blazed across the sky, their reconstructed orbit bore out that provenance.”  
Oh, anything much faster than 60 kps either fall naturally from outside the solar system... or was accelerated by someone with boojum powers and maybe ill intent!
And finally:
Don’t bogart that puffer, my friend. Dolphins pass around a puffer fish — apparently to get high off its toxins. After a few chomps, you no longer give a fugu.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Phases of the American Civil War

I frequently refer to our current era of American politics as the latest phase of the U.S. Civil War… in part because the political maps so blatantly copy a pattern that goes back almost 200 years. 

dogma-pragmatismCyclically, we find ourselves mired in dogma, instead of pragmatism, intransigent hatred instead of negotiation, nostalgia and romanticism, instead of belief that we can craft a better tomorrow.
Illustrating that others see this same breakdown, New York Magazine carried this article, A Southern GOP Can't Be the Party of Lincoln, decrypting how - politically - there seem always to have been two Americas. The Nixonian “Southern Strategy” flip changed the banners of the two sides, and Blue-vs-Gray has become Blue-vs-Red. Still, Jonathan Chait does a fair job of showing how consistent the political map has been.
This article, while mostly true and overall correct, misses a couple of key points.  First, the social movement called the "confederacy" has been at this for a long time.
civil-war-burnsPhase one of the American Civil War took place in the South, during the Revolution, when the British found their strongest support among Loyalist/Tory militias in Georgia and the Carolinas.  It was Scots-Irish hill settlers, fighting for Daniel Morgan, who tipped the balance in that struggle, toward what would become the American Experiment.
Phase two featured a period when southern politicians grew ever stronger in control of the U.S. federal government.  True, Andrew Jackson clamped down on John C. Calhoun's secessionism, in the 1830s, and kept the nation together. But Mr. Chait is correct that Jackson's overall sentiments were what we might call "confederate." Indeed, southern control over levers of power only grew until, by 1860, five of nine Supreme Court justices were slave-owners.
PAST-civil-warThis extended through the next phase, starting in 1852, when the Fugitive Slave Act turned the division violent.  Swarms of small units of southern irregular cavalry commenced rampaging across northern states, seizing anyone they wanted as an "escaped slave." These raider squadrons had the support of U.S. Marshals who were appointed by mostly-southern presidents. When outraged northerners started forming posses to defend their neighbors, those marshals called in federal troops. (See my earlier article: Past Keeping Faith with Future...and Day with Night.
In other words, the "confederate" social movement is not always anti-central-government!  It is only opposed to federal government when it does not control those levers of power.  Witness the tepidness of anti-government proclamations during the tenure of GW Bush.  Indeed, it is a wrathful unwillingness to let the electoral winners have their legitimate turn that was behind the hysterical reaction to Lincoln's election... and (one might argue) Obama's.
By the way, those rampaging bands of southern cavalry were self-defeating.  They radicalized northerners, causing them to arm themselves, revive their dormant militias and (eventually) vote for the abolitionist Lincoln. An effect that - were eyes open - one can clearly see happening across Blue America, today. (This is why Gun Control is such a pathetic hot button on the right.  No one is seeking more than tweaks.  Indeed, under Bush, many liberals started arming themselves.)
Up to this point, the Confederacy Society (CS) had lost phase one (allowing the establishment of a true federal republic), played for a draw in the Calhoun-Jackson era, and won phase three — in that its agendas controlled the national government and processes.
civil-war-word-cloudBut finally, Blue America got fed up. And what ensued was phase four — the one we normally think of as “The Civil War.” Unable to stomach their opponents ever even having a brief tenancy in just one branch of the government, CS did not bother trying to send even one delegation to negotiate with president-elect Lincoln, thus eliminating all right to refer to the Justifications for separation found in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence… that secession can be justified, but only when all other negotiations and redress have been exhausted. Anything short of that is oathbreaking and damnable treason.
BurnsCivilWarWe all know Phase Four very well. (If not, watch Ken Burns portray it magnificently, in his PBS series.) Hence, tra la I will bypass it and speed through the others:
Phase 5- The 1870s early end of Reconstruction... when the South bargained to let Rutherford Hayes and the Republicans into the White House, in exchange for what they really wanted. The “confederacy” won this phase, big time, when they dickered their way into an end of Civil Rights protections and a surge of Jim Crow laws that ripped from freed slaves the right to vote. The real losers, though? Not just minorities, but in every pragmatic sense the entire South, which thereupon slumped into a backwater of economic retardation and romantic, old-timey hatred of progress.
(You'd deny this?  Then explain how China in just 30 years went from poverty to economic superpower... when the US South has had 150 years and still blames its backwardness on Sherman.)
fall-dixiePhase 6 . The 1880s… this phase is not entirely associated with “confederate society” though it was part and parcel of the Democratic Party of those days. It featured William Jennings Bryan's white-christian populism, Free Silver and a rebuke to the steamroller effects of consolidated northern corporations. And for the first time, the states of the Great Plains began edging toward alliance with the Olde South. Northern oligarchs won phase six… unfortunately, in this case! (The one time the confederacy wing of our ongoing civil war had some real, moral justification on their side.)
What spun off from this phase was the Progressive Movement, which manifested all over America and was taken up by Theodore Roosevelt, whose family specialized in saving the wealthy in America from the inevitable price of limitless greed. If only today’s oligarchs understood that their greatest need, right now, is another Roosevelt! Without gentle, moderate reforms, our current momentum can only lead to tumbrels and guillotines. Watch Ken Burns's wonderful PBS series "The Roosevelts" which is being broadcast as we speak.
PHASES-CIVIL-WARPhase 7 - The 1940s through 1970s … the civil rights movement, started with Harry Truman’s bold desegregation of the military, then Dwight Eisenhower’s firm support of school desegregation. The essential and too-long delayed resumption of Reconstruction… which also included Lyndon Johnson’s effort to re-industrialize and re-invigorate the South. This phase was clearly won by Blue America (though the South benefited prodigiously, economically), but at a cost — which was….
Phase 8 - …the Nixonian, southern-strategy “flip" leads ultimately to today's full scale New Confederacy effort to finally destroy the United States of America. 

Not by force of arms, but by ending the effectiveness of politics as a pragmatic, open-minded process by which undogmatic citizens negotiate a mix of experiments and find out what works -- the methodology behind all of our successes. Replacing all of that with dogma more intense than communism ever was.
pragmatismPragmatism and science and re-evaluation are now portrayed to half our neighbors as enemies. A conviction of moral superiority that cannot be shaken by facts. 

Run through a long list of social ills: teen sex ages and rates, teen pregnancies, STDs, domestic violencedivorce rates, bankruptcy and debt default rates, education, economic productivity, net tax parasitism…even obesity rates… tell us clearly that outcome metrics do not support any claims that salt-of-the-earth types are better at life or raising kids than 'decadent' university-city-folk. Indeed, by all of those measures... and countless more... they get spectacularly worse outcomes.

So? The response is to utterly ignore statistics. Truthiness is all that matters.
rebellion-americaI could go on, but the point is clear: this rebellion against the American Experiment is both ancient and culturally deeply rooted.  We are in its eighth phase (at least).
Does it even have anything to do with the metaphor pushed by both Fox and MSNBC?  The hoary-stupid-lobotomizing so-called "left right political axis?"  Looking at all eight phases, that would seem to map poorly onto our civil war, which seems to be far more emotional and cultural -- a clash of two immiscible strains of American utopianism.
 In Ted Turner's wonderful film GETTYSBURG, one character opines that blue and gray America sang the same songs... but dreamed different dreams. Mark Twain commented that the confederacy side's relentlessly recurring rage is far more psychological than anything else, a deep romanticism and obsession with nostalgia that he blamed on Sir Walter Scott!  Certainly you can gain insight by tracing which regions sell more science fiction.
Where is it all heading?

Today's neo-confederacy is smart enough not to secede.  This time, it is working from within to slash the things that it always hated. Especially science, which is the enemy of nostalgia. But also any chance of American pragmatism prevailing in the kind of experiment-by-politics that has always been our national genius.
And yes, that campaign now includes seeking to ensure that "government of/by/for the people" SHALL perish from the Earth.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

China: Looking to the Future

Amid world tensions, are there good news stories?
== China’s Syndrome? ==
transformation-bustInvestment maven John Mauldin's Thoughts from the Frontline: Ttransformation or Bust looks at China's economy: “…there are no cases in modern history where an economy has managed to avoid an outright bust after experiencing rapid lending growth anywhere in the neighborhood of China’s ongoing credit boom.”
Mauldin continues: “The more I dig into the data, the more convinced I become that Xi Jinping and his colleagues in Beijing are facing an impossible challenge. After fueling one of the single greatest credit booms in modern history, the People’s Republic is left with a mountain of bad debt backing a number of overleveraged industries that are simply not viable without the state’s continued favor.” And: “While China does boast substantial buffers that can – at least in theory – allow it to paper over bad loans for another few years or resist the pressure of foreign capital outflows for a time, those buffers cannot protect China indefinitely. The longer the People’s Republic continues down the path of low-quality credit growth and widespread misallocation, the bigger the bubble will become. China may suffer one of the defining economic crises of our lifetimes.”
China-economyDoes this mean to be bearish on China? Of course not. In the 32 years since Deng Xiao Peng initiated the reforms that led to a spectacular development boom, more human beings have been lifted out of poverty than ever before. China's new infrastructure is spectacular, especially in comparison to the decaying and underfunded, penny-wise neglect of America's once-proud capital base. China's education levels are skyrocketing and - the most encouraging development of all - science fiction is starting to take some real hold over there.
Two factors that receive far too little notice... that it was willing U.S. policy to allow three decades of trade deficits to enrich China -- foreign aid through WalMart. See: How the U.S. saved the world by buying vast amounts of stuff. Probably the most generously helpful policy ever enacted by a great power, in the history of our species...
Intellectual-Property...that, plus turning a mostly blind eye to the hand-over-fist grab-theft of nearly all the crown jewels of American industrial Intellectual Property. (We need to recall that we were IP thieves, during our own early development; but still, this flagrant raid must stop. It kills the goose that lays the golden eggs that China relies upon.)
==Fighting Corruption==
So what are the prospects? Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party appears to be engaged in a major anti-corruption drive, using the “Central Commission for Discipline Inspection” to perform stings on bribed or shady party officials and then hand them over to state authorities. If this effort is sincere and vigorous, that is all very well and laudable…
fighting-corruption…and it has no bearing on the real way to eliminate corruption, which is liberating people to competitively apply transparency — reciprocal accountability — both laterally and from below.
Yes, yes, it is obvious why Xi and his cohorts — who are human, after all — will do what human rulers almost always do, and that is “solve” problems by top-down command. Indeed, sometimes it works. But then what? Something has always happened, after every Lorenzo di Medici, or Marcus Aurelius, or the first Tang or first Ming Emperors. After that initial burst of reform, top down systems always become spectacularly corrupt again.
east-westSome time ago, it looked as if the Chinese leadership was determined to leverage the ‘best possible’ combination of western and eastern methods, retaining hierarchical command control in the top tiers of governance, while allowing western methods of transparency and citizen-based accountability to root out inefficiencies and corruption down at the local and city and provincial level, where it does its worst harm to both average citizens and the economy.
I saw hints of this approach and squinted into the future, hoping I would hear Chinese leaders say something that is far from ideal (from a moral or righteous perspective) but that is at least smart and practical:
“We must retain single party control for at least another generation, in order to preserve stability during an era of rapid change. (Subtext: and also to preserve our grip on top-power in a traditional Chinese pyramid; we are, after all, human.)
citizenship-accountability“BUT, in order to maximize progress, efficiency and happiness, we will unleash citizen accountability upon all officials at the city and corporate level. People may record their interactions with officials. Moreover, the press is encouraged to publish exposés...
"… so long as the light STOPS at the district level. We will take it from there.
 “Only… district officials are warned. In ten years citizen accountability will rise to that level, so get ready! And ten years after that, this rule of openness will rise to the provincial level. So start preparing now, and stay clean enough to survive, when that happens.”
China-globalWould this create a dicey situation... the people may get that confrontational habit and try to pick up the pace! But the benefits -- eliminating 90% of all corruption and waste -- would be worth taking the risk.
That is what a Marcus Aurelius or Tang Emperor would have done, if they were truly wise. But wisdom, among human leaders, is as scarce as walking, talking dinosaurs.