Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Worst American shares his pain with us.

I'll begin this final, pre-inauguration political post by revisiting a fellow whose current agony is supremely well-deserved. The monstrous supreme liar of the right, and treasonous worst man in America, is not some screeching troll or white supremacist, or richly-paid Mudochian TV-shill, nor even one of the conniving oligarchs who - obeying dullard, gene-programmed reflex - scheme (against their true self-interest) to restore 6000 years of insipid feudalism. Obeying unsapient, inherited drives, they at least have the excuse of delusion.

No, the worst American is a genteel-sounding intellectual who takes pains to come across as smooth and well-reasoned. One who can see, clear-eyed, the choice between either helping or wrecking the Great Enlightenment Experiment that has been led by our republic and that gave humanity its first real hope. A man who chose - like Plato - to use his erudition against our periclean revolution.

Let's be clear, George F. Will tried hard to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the Republican nominee - or president - not for the sake of the nation, but in fear of the train wreck that now looms before American conservatism. No longer the party of Goldwater or Buckley, its plummeting average levels of education and IQ would cause any honest intellect deep misgivings. But then, Mr. Will was key to helping turn the GOP into the New Know Nothings, waging war not only upon science, but every fact-grounded profession in American life. Well, all but four, and shots have already been fired at two of the last-standing.
Case in point, this travesty of sophistry, condemning U.S. foreign policy, under Barack Obama: "Two seemingly unimpressed nations are Russia, which is dismembering a European nation (Ukraine), and China, which is shredding international law by turning the world’s most important waterway, the South China Sea, into militarized Chinese territory."

Standard GOP catechism, sure, Except, not even liberal journalists or pundits seem willing to ask: "how did Ukraine become a 'European nation'?"  

One of the charmingly obdurate traits of nearly all Americans is their inability to scan history. But not George Will. He knows that Ukraine was a reliable Russian satrapy or obedient client state until 2014, when popular uprisings and then free elections ousted Moscow's puppet, Yanukovich, in the worst disaster to Russian hegemonism since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That was the year Ukraine -- vast Ukraine -- became European.

Moreover, whom did Vladimir Putin and the Russian press openly blame for this calamity, bringing Europe within a few hundred kilometers of Moscow? Why, those machiavellian chessmaster-manipulators and insidious cold war fighters, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton! Just look at a map and view the last few years as V. Putin sees them. Read his actual (yes, actual) statements on the matter and vows of vengeance. His nibble-backs in Crimea and the Donbas, for which the U.S. rightwing kvells in admiration, are trifles, by comparison. 

Mr. Putin's only counter-move of equivalent magnitude was... getting Donald Trump. And yes, I admit that America is a bigger prize than the Donbas. Likewise, the U.S. navy patrols the South China Sea with regularity, making clear that a 12-mile radius is all that China has won around each of its stunningly vulnerable, sitting-duck outposts, gained - temporarily - at incredible cost in both money and goodwill. This is something that symbolism obsessed conservatives never get. What matters is what's actual! No wonder they abolished the Office of Technology Assessment from Congress, banishing facts, as they recently tried to banish ethics. But George Will knows all this. I never called him a confederate dunce. He is one of the manipulators. Like the main character in Vonnegut's Mother Night, he is a svengali in the cause of an oligarchic putsch whose aim is the permanent replacement of truth with truthiness. The confederacy has taken Washington. And though Mr. Will would have preferred other generals, he will now do his duty by his new caudillo and help to keep it. Oh, read Will's essay and notice the technique! Proclaim the absurd as a given! For example: "The fact that the world is more disorderly and less lawful than when Obama became president..." The staggering gall of such proclamations is the power of their counterfactual madness! One small example: when Obama entered office, not a single major U.S. Army or Marine unit was rated "fully combat ready" (FCR) and America's reputation was around our ankles. Allies had dropped away from us like peeling skin. 

Today? 100% of major U.S. active duty military units are FCR. The National Guard and reserves - devastated and ruined under Bush - are now repaired. Oh, do show me any major, foreign-organized terror attacks on our homeland, during the "disorderly" Obama years. Show me one. There are almost no major, attributable metrics of U.S. national health that did not improve (most of them a lot) across spans of the last two Democratic presidencies. And almost none that did not decline or plummet across both Bush Administrations, including even conservative desiderata like military readiness, stock valuations, entrepreneurship and yes, federal fiscal responsibility. A sane, fact-grounded person might be expected to notice this, which is why all fact-grounded professions have left the GOP, in droves. 

This is why the central obsession on today's right is not racism, or misogyny, or any of the other distractions. It is hatred of fact-grounded professions. Including especially journalism, the craft and high calling that Mr. Will betrays, daily. Am I the only observer who noticed that just one of the major GOP figures of the last 20 years was even mentioned at the recent Republican National Convention? Neither Bush Senior nor Junior, nor Cheney, nor the convicted felons Hastert and DeLay, nor Boehner, McConnell, McCain or Romney was referred-to, even in passing! Only the censured serial polygamist (though fascinating sci fi author) Newt Gingrich, whose revenge on the others was (I admit) delicious. 

Oh, such pride in your party's track record! Such validation for trusting this cult, again, with even a burnt match.

== Skewer the lies ==

Did you notice that the whole basis for Donald Trump's recent rejection of the Intelligence Community -- for citing Russian interference in US elections -- has been "these are the same folks who saw WMDs in Iraq!" Neglecting to mention that the WMD episode featured bullying of the IC by one outrageously immature Republican president, exactly as Trump himself is loudly threatening to do.

Elsewhere I show how one can compare GOP and Democratic presidents not by whether they wage war -- (all of them do, sometimes in error, though the mostly-beneficent American Pax has been worth fighting for) -- but how they wage it. I show how time and again, Democratic doctrine has been to listen to the generals and apply force as surgically as possible. That approach doesn't always go well! In Somalia, the scalpel was too small and thin, for example. But the bludgeon approach preferred by Republican presidents is a proved failure.

(Watch as the three generals DT has appointed provide surface cover for a wave of firings and forced retirements that will 'cleanse' - Erdogan-syle - both the Intelligence Community and the U.S. Military Officer Corps. Let us pray that the best of the three -- James Mattis -- will dig in his heels.)

Mr. Will can see all of this with utter clarity, and crafts his philippics accordingly. Oh, there are times when I almost sympathize with this devil. He is a gifted polemicist, as when he concludes: 

"Soon, foreign policy will be conducted by a man who, although in 2010 he said WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange deserves the death penalty, now seems to trust Assange on the subject of Russian hacking more than he trusts the consensus of the nation’s $53 billion civilian intelligence institutions. Time passes and, we are told, brings progress." All of it spot on. But then, that is how top level savanarolas operate. Every time Mr. Will criticizes Donald Trump, it will be accompanied by a "but..." that helps to staunch hemorrhages of sane conservatives to the other side. Oh, it's clear Mr. Will is currently in pain. Pain that he so richly deserves, for his endless, clever, deceitful treasons. He knows this will not go well for the Confederacy that he strove so hard to revive. And I nurse no guilt over the schaedenfreude I feel, for this evil man's agony.

== The Worst Man redux ==

Oh, but since I wrote the preceding passages -- setting them aside for other matters -- America's worst person continued his deliberate sabotage of reason. 

In this latest bit, he cites the "Sokal Hoax" to prove that the entire opposition to U.S. conservatism is just as crazy as (he now admits) conservatism has become. That is the narrative of today's right, hand crafted by Mr. George Will, along with Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and every other shill for returning us to feudalism.

"Yes, it's clear my side gas gone insane... but... but... but liberals are worse!  
"Yeah, that's the ticket. Liberals are just as bad!"

Yes, the Sokal Hoax was and remains a delightfully on-target and hilarious entrapment and evisceration of the postmodernist fad pushed by far-left, science-hating, faux-intellectuals. In 1996, Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York Universitysubmitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies -- "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" -- proposing that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. "At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist." 

The avid acceptance by far-lefty postmodernists of deliberately concocted drivel helped to severely discredit that noxious movement, whose emphasis on incantation, magical thinking, masturbatory indignation and hostility to science shares voluptuous commonalities with similar cults on the right. Except that George Will fails to note crucial facts:

1) The Sokal Affair revealed that science is ready and able to defend itself, quite capably. 

2) The editors of Social Text owned up to their mistakes and instituted reforms, something that similar liars on the right never do, always doubling down on their incantations.

3) The far-left may contain some bilious haters of science, but the entire American right today consists of science haters, waging war - indeed - on every knowledge profession in American life, from journalism, teaching, civil service, medicine, economics, diplomacy, etc. all the way to - recently - the United States military and intelligence officer corps.  

There is a world of difference between "far" and "entire"... as there is between "contains" and "consists."

Mr. Will knows all of this. That fact -- his open-eyed and conscious choice to lie in service of monstrous treason -- has helped to bring America to this state, while driving both education and IQ levels in the deliberately-lobotomized Republican Party to historic lows. This has paid off well for Mr. Will and his neo-feudalist masters. Indeed, if we continue, and somehow survive, then the world of Idiocracy will erect statues to this horrid little man.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A political countdown

== Boundaries, borders and political miscellany ==

One of the hottest issues in the U.S. presidential campaign was Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall with Mexico. Writing from Mexico City, Homero Aridjis and James Ramey offer a highly innovative proposal: Instead of Trump’s wall, they want to build a border of solar panels. “It would have a civilizing effect in a dangerous area,” they contend. “Since solar plants use security measures to keep intruders out, the solar border would serve as a de facto virtual fence, reducing porousness of the border while producing major economic, environmental and security benefits on both sides.”

The latest Wisconsin legislative map has been ruled illegally partisan. Please, get this to the Court before Donald can appoint Phil Robertson to the bench?  

One of the netizens of my blog community recently made a petition on Change.Org that I think some of you may find interesting: Statehood for Native American tribal lands administered by the Federal Government.

Petition Text:  “Native American peoples have historically been disenfranchised with the states where their reservations have been located. Even today, the more than 5 million Native Americans lack even modest representation in DC, often due to the machinations of the Red State governments surrounding them. I propose that all reservations lands that are administered by the Federal Government be designated as an American State, with 2 seats in the US Senate and an proportionate congressional delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives. This American State would not be contiguous, but neither is Michigan, Virginia nor Alaska. Designation of a state capital and congressional districts will be entirely up to them. Issues arising between residence in this State and the racial qualifications for tribal membership must be resolved in full accordance with the US Constitution.”

Huh!  I like the idea of giving all Native American reservations a collective statehood!  Kinda hard on New Mexico. Turns it into a smaller state that’s kind of lily white, so no gain for the dems!

How about this alternative idea. Let reservations across the U.S. declare themselves to be part of New Mexico or Dakota? You’d accomplish the same thing. In fact, W.E.B. DuBois once suggested a reverse Great Migration of African Americans to either Mississippi or South Carolina.  It would only take a few hundred thousand to turn either of them into a black republic. What a delicious thought... worth reviving?

Oh, in Existence you see much the same thing.  The Senators from both North & South Dakota are Native Americans… because so many whites moved out after the Yellowstone volcano burped.

== Twin pillars of a cult ==

Republicans are in a tight spot, since Obamacare was originally their own damned plan. 

Why am I the only one mentioning this? All of their alternatives are variations on it.  Not surprisingly since Obama's Affordable Care Act was based upon the outline developed for Republicans by the Heritage Foundation, that was the GOP platform plank on health for a decade and then became “RomneyCare” in Massachusetts. 

Watch this clip of Rep. Brendan Boyle explaining the origins of Obamacare in the GOP's marketplace plan for healthcare.

So why did Obama present their own plan to them, in 2009. He did it in the sappy and forlorn hope that Republicans would actually negotiate, just that once, if offered their own… damn… plan.  

Instead, since Obama touched it, the plan suddenly had cooties. And was deemed satanic by all loyal dittohead Fox watchers! 

Only now, what to do? What, after 6 years screeching that Obamacare - which insured 20 million Americans and steeply lowered the rate of increase of health costs in America - was devil spawn, you still don't have a replacement ready?

 Expect extensive tweaking and cosmetic changes, especially in nomenclature! Lots of symbolic re-namings. And "health savings plans" that no one will buy. Oh, and a new law requiring drug companies to negotiate with Medicare on costs... something democrats have long advocated and that Republicans, by law, specifically forbade.

Later news seems to confirm all that. Paul Ryan’s plan and Trump’s are both looking like Obamacare with Obama’s name and wording scratched out and a couple of tweaks that could have been negotiated 6 years ago, if any Republicans once showed up at the negotiating table. See where I predicted this. 

To reiterate a core point about American political life: Democratic Congresses always negotiate with and compromise with Republican presidents, in order to get some business done. They yell and fight, but always pass budgets, usually based on the budget presented by the administration. 

In contrast, GOP Congresses (with the sole exception of 1995) never, ever negotiate with a democratic president, even over vital national needs. And only seldom do they even pass budgets.

See this pattern playing out again. As it will, especially, if the dems retake Congress in 2018, the Year of the Colonels.

== Cheaters redux ==

North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project. Of course the same thing applies to all but two red states. (In fairness, two blue states also do this wretched cheating.) They do this because if gerrymandering and other cheats fail, the entire neo-feudal design collapses. 

More on cheating: The U.S. is the only democracy in the world that allows its voting machines to be made – mostly unsupervised – by private, for-profit, partisan companies. "Companies that make political contributions as did Dominion, the remnants of Diebold that went out of business for worldwide fraud following the 2004 election, and Hart Intercivic. So we allow these private, for-profit partisan companies to count our vote, to set our databases with secret proprietary software that nobody can look at. It violates every principle of transparency. And the only person on a high level willing to talk about this is Jimmy Carter, who says to Der Spiegel that America has a dysfunctional democracy and that we don't meet minimum standards of transparency."

Apropos of voting machines: this article mentions Black Box Voting the outfit that has probably done the most work to explore and educate about the shift to electronic voting. With a donation, you can download a PDF of the book: Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st century.

== And irksome cavils ==

Someone I know pointed out an interesting hypocrisy: those who would proclaim that human life begins at conception rage against morning-after pills - the simplest form of abortion... yet say nothing about fertilization clinics that create scores of fertilized embryos for every successful birth. Many are flushed.  Some are "stored" without any chance of ever being implanted... and are eventually flushed. Why no outrage?

Perhaps because it's often poor women who need abortions, and those who can afford to could always go to New York or California. But it's mostly rich women who use in vitro fertility clinics. 

Alas, it's likely even simpler than that. The abortion frenzy serves a political purpose, as a way to take the uber moral high-ground, based on a single, grand declaration that proclaims your enemies to be baby-killers. It allows fundies to get around the quandary they faced, called the Jesus Effect. (See my earlier posting: Abortion and the Jesus Effect.) For despite all of his other, beaded, bearded, socialist hippie and broadly democratic values, Jesus would have to be a Republican based on the one, simple issue of saving murdered babies. With that one declaration, they can then safely ignore everything else that Jesus stood for, and help elect a man who is his diametric opposite.

 This is not a stance that can bear much scrutiny.  So never scrutinize.

Oh, final rant-item: Even the CATO Institute, after decades whoring for the Kochs, seems to be gathering some guts, publishing articles like this one -- The Right has its own version of Political Correctness. It's just as stifling -- calling out conservatism for being just as wording and symbolism obsessed as their left-wing “PC bully” adversaries. 

“Just as?” Oh, much, much more so. Vastly more so. See here.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Science Fictional News & Announcements

The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has launched a new podcast series - Into the Impossible - with conversations bridging the arts, sciences, technology, medicine and more! Episode 1: Imagining the Impossible; Episode 2Becoming a Galactic Wonder, Episode 3: The Hard Problem with Kim Stanley Robinson and Marina Abramović.

NEWS: my submission - “Bargain” - won the recent One Page Screenplay Contest! The script was performed and posted online by the Los Angeles Feedback Film Festival, with the role of Ronald Reagan well-played by Peter Nelson. Nelson did a fine and fun job with the brief, comedic-ironic part.

So will I receive my accolades at a gala tuxedo event with red carpet? I have this fluffy, backless thing....

One story I did not expect to be "prophetic"... though it deals with prophecy... is "The Loom of Thessaly," about a spectacular, ancient site lurking in the middle of modern, heavily traveled Greece. Only now comes word of a "Lost City" discovered just a few hours north of Athens in the ancient region of ... Thessaly.  Give "The Loom of Thessaly" a read -- from my collection The River of Time! 

Oh, a reminder: Last week saw the debut of my latest book -- Chasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World: An anthology of stories and essays about a future filled with light, edited by David Brin and Stephen W. Potts, in collaboration with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, with stories and essays by Ramez Naam, Bruce Sterling, Brenda Cooper, Robert Sawyer, Nancy Fulda, Scott Sigler, James Morrow, Neal Stephenson, Robert Silverberg, Aliette de Bodard…and more. 

Join me and Stephen Potts for a booksigning at Mysterious Galaxy Friday January 27 at 7:30

== More news! ==

I'll be the author guest at San Diego Comic Fest, along with Greg Bear and Gregory Benford February 17 to20.

Would-be science fiction authors! I’ll be participating as a lecturer at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in June.

On Canada Day, July 1, 2016, my esteemed colleague Robert Sawyer was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour bestowed by the Canadian government. See Rob's latest novel, Quantum Night.

Well it’s about time, c’est vrai! Some of you will want the French edition of Existence — with a cool (if obscurely totally apropos!) cover by Yohann Schepacz, published this autumn by Bragelonne, translated by Claude Mamier.
For his 100th episode, Kevin Tumlinson's Wordslinger Podcast invited me to offer some Big Picture perspectives in an "amazing" interview.  The show's primary emphasis is on the writing process and the writing biz, but also sci fi films and books and how to watch history unfolding around us. A fun and very well done podcast!

== Science Fictional Worlds ==

This essay on the history of the concept of parallel worlds is excellent, within its own narrow framework.  It leaves out all non-European versions of the idea, and give short shrift to all but a few treatments in mainstream science fiction. A more comprehensive look might also range from clear-eyed explications like Niven's "All the Myriad Ways" all the way to Vladimir Nabakov's murky, indulgent novel Ada.  Still it is an entertaining article and thought provoking.

Only an Apocalypse Can Save Us Now: Here’s an erudite Harpers piece by Mark Lilla on the varied ways that so many have been transfixed by romantic notions of apocalypse. 

Lila laces this rumination on doomcasting with bookish refs to Heidigger, Cervantes, bible, Islam etc. For example, after discussing how pampered people often dive into nostalgia – like so many spoiled American baby boomers -- “La nostalgie de la boue is alien to history’s victims. Finding themselves on the other side of the chasm separating past and present, some recognize their loss and turn to the future, with hope or without it: the camp survivor who never mentions the number tattooed on his arm as he plays with his grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon. Others remain at the edge of the chasm and watch the lights recede on the other side, night after night, their minds ricocheting between anger and resignation: the aged White Russians sitting around a samovar in a chambre de bonne, the heavy curtains drawn, tearing up as they sing songs from the old country.

“Some, though, become idolaters of the chasm. They are obsessed with taking revenge on whatever Demiurge caused it to open up. Their nostalgia is revolutionary. Since the continuity of time has already been broken, they begin to dream of making a second break and escaping from the present. But in which direction?” …

Lilla makes a lot of strong points, many of them quite different than my own take on apocalyptic-messianic-millennialist thinking. Yet he points to some of the same historical ignoramuses and hypocrites. 

“Apocalyptic historiography never goes out of style. Today’s American conservatives have perfected a popular myth of how the nation emerged from World War II strong and virtuous, only to become a licentious society governed by a menacing secular state after the Nakba of the Sixties. They are divided over how to respond. Some want to return to an idealized traditional past; others dream of a libertarian future where frontier virtues will be reborn and internet speeds will be awesome.” 

In the end I was disappointed because he doesn’t even try to glance – even sideways – at the folks who build civilization and who fought and dug our way out of the last apocalypse, the human nadir of 1943, at the bottom of the Concave Century. No glimpse of the greatest accomplishment of our time – turning the attention of millions to building a golden age with our own hands, not lamenting a (mostly fictitious) lost one, in the past.

Least of all does he notice that his own passionate erudition is clearly aimed at helping to prevent  the kind of alienation and despair that can wreck a civilization, that we recently saw in the election. Nor is he apparently aware that he aims to achieve the wonder of science fiction – a self-preventing prophecy – and yet the author’s bestiary makes no mention of folks like him.

== and more ==

Hugo Gernsback, who edited Amazing stories and coined the (unfortunate) term “science fiction, and after whom the Hugo Award is named, also invented the forerunner of today’s VR glasses.  See a glimpse of them in this entertaining article.

Interesting SFnal concept in a “mainstream” novel, the New York Times bestseller, Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. From the review on NPR: “A tale set in a modern America where the Civil War never happened and four states still enforce slavery follows the experiences of a talented black bounty hunter who infiltrates an abolitionist group to catch a high-profile runaway.”

"The future," as the author William Gibson once noted, "is already here. It's just unevenly distributed." Look, I respect Bill immensely as one of our finest and most thought provoking metaphorists.  But why do people keep quoting things that are just plain dumb?  It’s like Yoda’s horrid aphorism: “Do or do not, there is no try.”  Huh? Sure, one can squint and see a comment on wealth disparity, on the one hand and determination to succeed, on the other.  But seriously, you know that’s not what those sayings are supposed to mean.  What they are supposed to mean… isn’t even remotely or in any conceivable sense, true.

In his article, The novel Heinlein would have written about GW Bush's America, Cory Doctorow gives a rave review to John Varley’s delightful Red Lightning.

Author and Futurist Brenda Cooper received the 2016 Endeavour Award for her novel Edge of Dark, a science fiction novel about mankind coming face to face with its past mistakes, as a near-AI that was banished to the edge of known space finds its way home again. The book is the first volume in the author’s The Glittering Edge duology, published by Pyr Books.  Read her terrific story in Chasing Shadows!

Catch this music video on YouTube, a very clever takeoff on the style of Betty Boop cartoons of the 1930s, but this time on the shallowness of ubiquitous cellphone culture.  Pretty good music too, by Moby & the Void Pacific Choir.

== Zombies vs Vampires?==

In response to my posting: Vampires, Zombies Werewolves and American Politics, one member of my blogmunity wrote: "I find I have to dispute your assertion, so comfortingly full of truthiness, that "vampire flicks always correlate with Republican administrations. (During democratic administrations, it’s zombies, all the way down.)" This may be because we are using differing data sets, but let's investigate. For science!"

Methods used: searches of IMDB for keywords "vampire" and "zombie", combined with 1-year time restrictions, for years 1953-2016. Data are insufficiently sparse to continue analysis before 1953; besides which, the controls of both the studio system and wartime propaganda restrictions would likely introduce fatal confounders in any case. Test statistic used was (V-Z)/(V+Z), i.e, the relative excess of vampire films as a proportion of the total of vampire and zombie flicks. Comparisons were made to control of the federal Presidency, Senate, and House by major party.

Results: With the exception of two outlier years, 1953 and 1959, vampire films dominated the box office until 1980 regardless of party control of any branch of government. A dramatic shift to zombie films occurs with the election of Ronald Reagan and persists until 1990, when a slow creep back to a slightly vampiric balance occurs. With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, instability in the V/Z balance occurs, settling in 2007 (after Democratic House control is secured) on a distinct zombie preference, a period persisting until the present day.

Conclusions: The hypothesis that the country displays distinct "moods" regarding vampire/zombie preference is confirmed. Data are insufficient to verify statistical significance, but support is found for the idea that the V/Z preference is tied to political shifts. The hypothesis of a tight linkage between the V/Z preference and presidential or other partisan control patterns is rejected.

I stand admonished!  While my general impression’s truthiness stands confirmed overall, its statistical reliability correlating with party administrations kind of… er… sucks.

== And a New Year's wish ==

We should feel strengthened in our dedication to use the greatest gifts that either God or Evolution gave us, or that we seized for ourselves. Yes, love and compassion... but also curiosity and calm willingness to exult in the holy catechism of science: 

"Yes, I might be wrong! Or maybe you are. Perhaps both! Ain't it cool? Let's go find out."

Scientific songs of praise: Watch and enjoy. In dedication to our one chance to grow up. Together.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Economics in the time of Trump... plus Dylann "Eratratos" Roof

Toward the end of this posting, I will comment on how the Dylann Roof trial perfectly illustrates one of my ongoing themes called the "Erastratos Effect." But first...

== A jumble: economics, politics and the future ==

Evonomics chose my essay - The Ultimate Answer to Government is Useless - to cap off a tumultuous year, and to welcome one that might be much better. That is, if we choose to remember where all our good stuff came from. 

All our wealth, comforts, adventures, illuminations, fun and progress came from a civilization that (till recently) encouraged negotiation based on facts. One that benefited from educating millions. One that developed the fantastic tool known as science.

Following up on that, I do worry about how far the cult of science-hating in America will go. Twenty years ago, the Republicans took over Congress (then held it for all but 2 of the last 22 years). They immediately banished the legislature's own, in-house fact-advisory service, the Office of Technology Assessment, or OTA. Their justification for banishing expertise? That all of OTA's advice was "partisan and biased."  

Of course if that were true, they had only to appoint an influx of conservative scientists and other experts, to restore balance.  But no, top republicans knew that would not work. Because they could find almost no scientists - even conservative ones - who were willing to outright lie or deny blatant facts.

We will see similar things, soon. Plans are already afoot to de-fund Public Television and Radio. Even more comparable: the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which was hugely boosted under Barack Obama, will likely be slashed. But the real fit will hit a shan when this purge of "fact people" extends to the military and intelligence communities. The first shots have already been fired. We need to start pondering now, what if Donald Trump tries to emulate Turkey's Erdogan, and purge the Officer Corps of "unreliables..."?

How to respond? For starters, lay into any "left-leaning" individual who gives in to the ancient and hoary-stupid reflex of spite toward military or intel folks. (I am looking at fetishist-obsessives like you, Glenn Greenwald.) Suspicion of authority is one thing -- indeed powerful state institutions merit close scrutiny, as I push in The Transparent Society. Even pacifism is defensible as a philosophical stance, meriting a place at the table. 

But we who stand on the fact- and reality-based side of this civil war cannot afford to reject other fact-and-reality users, including short-haired civil servants and folks in uniform. We all need each other right now. Long hair or crewcut. If you believe in objective reality, then our Enlightenment Experiment needs you. We need you.

== What's next? ==

Next? Well, after 20 out of the last 22 years, when GOP Congresses were the laziest in the republic's history, 
I do expect a flurry of cosmetic activity. In a narrow range, they will be very active! For example: watch a wave of tax cuts for the rich. Despite the fact that Supply Side "economics" has never made a single successful prediction. Even one, ever.  Not one. Ever.

"At least starting with the federal personal income tax-rate cut of 1964, all personal income tax-rate cuts have been followed with cumulative net widenings in the federal budget deficits."
  -- conservative economist Paul Kasriel

In other words, Supply Side forecasts of deficit closings via tax cuts have never come true. At all. Witness also Kansas, Oklahoma and other states plummeting into bankruptcy by following this cult, whose sole positive outcomes have been (surprise?) to vastly augment the disparities of the uber influential-rich over the rest of us.  These people are unfit to shine the shoes of the Greatest Generation, who made America “great” under high, Rooseveltean tax rates.

From Evonomics: Finance Is Not the Economy: An economy that is based increasingly on rent extraction by the few and debt buildup by the many is a feudal model. 

So say Dirk Bezemer and Michael Hudson, who show how finance wizards persuaded our economy to inflate asset bubbles and enrich the Rentier Caste of new lords by piling up debt. CEOs spend their companies' cash on stock buy backs instead of investing in production or new products. In particular, Bezemer & Hundson focus on the parasitic ways that one sector of the economy -- finance -- has latched onto the arteries of every other industry, and consumers, enriching a very few while bleeding the economy, as a whole.

"Nearly all this asset-price inflation was debt-leveraged. Money and credit were not spent on tangible capital investment to produce goods and non-financial services, and did not raise wage levels."

Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump were all part of this "supply side" cult, criticized by Warren Buffett and all the west coast tech moguls who do invest in actual products and services. The foxes, truly, have been hired by the saps in the hen house. "Who better to look out for us, than guys who know how we're preyed upon?" demand the Trumpist masses, seemingly unaware that their 'logic' is not... logical. Nor is it self interest. 

== Science is the canary in our coal mine ==

The right's war against science and all other fact-professions has now zeroed in on the archetype of modern entrepreneurial enterprise, Elon Musk. So far, Donald Trump has appointed only finance-billionaire-rentier parasites... not a single successful businessman who made his fortune as a creator of actual, innovative goods and services. 

Only there's late news: Elon has agreed to serve on a Trump advisor board. Terrific! We'll see who gets useful show out of this... who gets used... and who shows agility for all our sakes.  Who knows? He can be persuasive...

In another Evonomics article, Entering the Age of Instability After Trump, Peter Turchin, author of Ultrasociety and Ages of Discord, asserts that cliodynamics (admittedly inspired by Asimov's psychohistory) predicted this era of social friction and wrath, which will peak in the 2020s. If this would-be Hari Seldon is right, then we must gird ourselves to get across the crisis.

And now... as promised...
== Erastratos Redux ==

As for Dylann Roof, as usual, the reporting gets it wrong: "It came as no surprise that a federal jury recommended the death penalty for Dylann Roof, the unapologetic, unrepentant young man who in June 2015 massacred nine African-Americans inside a historic church in Charleston, S.C. Not only did he deliberately target innocent parishioners in the midst of Bible study for the sole purpose of advancing the cause of white supremacy, but the trial was as one-sided as could be. Deliberations took less than three hours."

Journalists seem puzzled as to why Roof demanded to represent himself, why he offered no real defense, questioned few witnesses, refused a psychiatric defense and angrily rejected any notion of "insanity." Indeed, that insistence was the sole, central and passionate goal of a man who seemed bent on achieving for himself the death penalty.

Now this might be the tactic of a dedicated martyr, seeking to use his own death as a sacrifice for a cause.  But not in most of these cases.  Rather, this behavior is typical of what I have called the "Erastratos Syndrome" -- under which an individual who is generally inferior in intellect or positive accomplishment seeks to achieve fame and notice via some flashy-negative act of destruction. 

"I'm no poet or philosopher or warrior, but now you'll remember me!" shouted Erastratos, after he burned down the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Death is no large price to pay, when your only goal is to be noticed, at last, after a life of mediocrity. And thus it seems daunting to come up with any form of deterrence against this syndrome, which probably underlies fully half of all these mass-killers.

Except the ancient Greeks did find an answer.  It is a clear solution to this problem! One that I talk about here (and first published on Salon). One that would be cheap and simple and fair... and that would truly gall and repel all future Dylann Roofs, who will otherwise keep trying to tear the rest of us down, just to say "look at me!"