Saturday, October 22, 2016

Amazing - and sometimes deadly - animals

Oh, thank you science!  For offering alluring reasons why I can turn every weekend posting away from politics!

And this time, let's look at some of our fantastic fellow creatures on this globe. For example:

Russian researchers have teased out the separate sounds from two dolphins, demonstrating that they take turns and emit sequences of bursts that seem to be discursive… in other words – conversation.  Similarly, sperm whales have been found to form clans with distinct cultures... and regional dialects -- which consist of distinct click patterns. 

Which mammals are most likely to be killed by their own kind? A recent study - The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence - tabulated cause-of-death comparing a wide variety of mammal species. The researchers found that a likely baseline murder rate among humans would be around 2 percent.  That means that 2 out of every 100 human deaths would be a murder taking into account only our place on the evolutionary tree, and nothing about political pressures, technology or social norms.
In comparison, among mammals in general just 0.3 percent of deaths are murders. For the common ancestor of primates, the rate is 2.3 percent.

With 2 percent as a human baseline, we come across as both uncommonly peaceful for primates and uncommonly violent for mammals. A topic extensively explored by Steven Pinker in his best-selling book, Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

"Rates of homicide in modern societies that have police forces, legal systems, prisons and strong cultural attitudes that reject violence are, at less than 1 in 10,000 deaths (or 0.01%), about 200 times lower than the authors' predictions for our state of nature," comments biologist Mark Pagel.

The champion killers of their own kind?  Meerkats. Hakkuna Matata, man.

And even more dangerous animals are explored in the recently released popular science book, Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry. Biologist Christie Wilcox investigates how such a wide variety of animals - jellyfish, sea urchins, spiders, snakes, scorpions, as well as certain snails, fish and frogs - have adapted to manufacture poisonous chemical cocktails that can debilitate, paralyze or kill. The complex biochemistry of these toxins may hold clues for future medical treatments.

== Unusual adaptations ==

Consider some extreme survival strategies:

A microbe found deep in a South African gold mine feeds off energy from radioactive uranium in the rock of the mine. Along these lines, could it be possible that cosmic rays power life in alien environments?

And scientists have identified a gene in strange, aquatic creatures called tardigrades that helps them survive harsh conditions, even boiling, freezing and radiation. One called "Dsup" (short for "damage suppressor") seems to attach to and protect DNA from radiation. 

Mice sing like a jet engine: scientists find that mice make their high-pitched squeaks by expelling a "glottal jet" of air at supersonic speed. 

Hints of tool use, culture seen in bumble bees? Apparently even bumblebees can learn to pull a string to retrieve a reward. Surprisingly, they can learn this trick from other bees, even though they have no experience with such a task in nature. 

A study of 29 mammals yawning found that the length of their yawn correlates with brain size -- longest for primates.

Carl Safina's Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel a thoughtful look at the latest scientific insights into animal communication, emotions and the question of animal consciousness -- 

-- issues I explore in fiction in my Uplift novels.  See also my earlier posting: Will we uplift other animals to sapience?

According to a study in Science, three different species of great apes -- chimpanzee, bonobo and orangutan -- are able to distinguish when others hold false beliefs, and anticipate the perspective of another ape. 

Scientists have for the first time, documented evidence of wild chimpanzee mothers teaching their young to use primitive tools -- to probe for termites. 

Sharp stone flakes may not be unique to our human ancestors. Capuchin monkeys have been observed to inadvertently produce jagged stone flakes as they pound stones together (for unknown reasons). Curiously the monkeys frequently lick the stones they've hammered (perhaps as mineral supplements?).

Consider... Five times evolution ran in reverse, a fascinating look at instances of regressive evolution -- in penguins, hagfish, snakes and aphids. 

== Complex thought and communication ==

No bird brains here: Trained pigeons were able to distinguish four-letter words from non-words, and to tell the difference between correctly spelled words and those with transposed characters.

A research paper in Applied Animal Behavior finds that horses can learn to use abstract symbols to communicate their preferences. 

And apparently even fish 'chat' to each other! Cod are incredibly vocal -- displaying regional 'dialects' that differ in frequency and tone. These fish can generate a range of complex sounds by vibrating their swim bladder -- which they use to establish territories, attract mates or signal the presence of a nearby predator.

Are dolphins finally waking up to their identity... and potential? See The Great Mammal Conspiracy, one of the latest cartoons from the always amusing SMBC. 

We're just beginning to understand the complexities of animal communication. So... so long, and thanks for all the fish!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Post-debates, post... mortem? Hillary's ten mistakes. And Donald's missing veer.

All right, I've been typing too much about the G#!*&d@m election.  Oh, for it to be over! And yet, like Donald Trump, I get addicted to my audience -- which consists of mostly bright folks who want to get some off-angle perspectives, of the kind you get only here!  So what to I do with my backlog of extra material? 

Tell you what... I'll go ahead with this posting that was already prepared... but if you want to see my list of Ten Mistakes Hillary Made in the 3rd Debate, then scroll down and click on comments!  I'll post my list as comment number one.  She made some doozies... though of course, she still did a good job.

Perhaps you'll find that list more entertaining than...

== Why Donald Never Tried for the Center... ==

Way back six months ago I predicted – perhaps naively – that the Republican nominee would choose a couple of standard GOP insanities to drop during this campaign… both for the sake of the nation and for his own sake… and that with both nominees agreeing, we could finally turn our backs on insipid, disproved nostrums like climate denialism and Supply Side Voodoo Economics.  I even envisioned Donald Trump doing this!  Since he has no historic vesting in standard, GOP (loony) platforms. 

That – alas – did not happen.  DT has doubled down on every single Murdochian catechism, focusing solely on his base, for one reason an one reason only…

…because he gets off at those big rallies of his. They are his Big Man High. They are his universe. When he wallows in the cheers of thousands, it is easy for him to pander to their every bigotry and Fox-Limbaugh mantra, telling himself that these crowds represent hundred of millions.  

So, no veer to the center. No strategic re-ordering of the campaign. Sigh and alack, this is no “genius.”

Only… we did see one glimmer of might-have-been, during the Vice Presidential debate, when Mike Pence spoke of criminal justice reform… which means reducing penalties that have, for generations, been slammed on victimless crimes like simple drug possession and especially focused on minorities. Some other GOP leaders have spoken of this as one small area where they’d be willing to break Dennis (convicted sexual predator) Hastert’s Rule against ever negotiating with democrats.   

But Hastert’s influence still reigns beyond prison walls. “After promising to bring a package of reform legislation up for a vote in the House in September, Speaker Paul Ryan changed his mind last month, and Congress went into recess without moving forward. The problem, according to members and advocates, is not that the bills wouldn’t have passed but that they would have split Republican lawmakers — and GOP leaders were wary of a divisive intra-party fight just weeks before November’s election.”

Still, I’ll grab hope where I can find it.  If we can flip Congress, then this will be among the first items to get enough Republican support to pass.

== Bernie setting an example ==

Hey you grumbling Bernites: "The senator from Vermont just raised $2 million in two days online for 13 like-minded U.S. Senate and House candidates" 

Bernie is doing what I urged YOU to do. While campaigning for Clinton, he's focusing hard on Congress, where the legislation that he wants must pass, cornering HC to put up. So, are you just a grumbler? Or someone who can act, as well as gripe? There's likely a tipping point race for Congress or state assembly near you and it's not to late to help, or donate. In fact, your state assembly can be crucial, so step up. Or else know that you're just hot air.
== Crossover votes? ==

Democrats who once buzzed about a possible Hillary Clinton landslide aided by disaffected Republicans, are finally waking up. If U.S. conservatives have one renowned character trait it is stubborn loyalty. Hillary Clinton’s forlorn efforts to woo more than a few of the sanest are – and always were – doomed, as your neighbors who are republicans follow their usual pattern of coalescing around their nominee.  

Okay, it may work with college educated women.  And (again) those sane enough to have noticed that the GOP wages outright war on science and every other fact-based profession.  Beyond that, she and her advisers are being foolish in almost a dozen ways.

It is time (!) to shift 50% of efforts from 'sumo' politics to Judo

Okay, I've said some of these things before and hence this particular list of points to raise is rather late.  Still, these may help in arguments with co-workers or naighbors:

1- Plenty of Republicans dismiss Trump as a temporary disease-aberration. He is a symptom. Portray him as the natal outcome of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes's takeover of US conservatism.

2- Clinton used the word 'Republican' just ONCE in the 1st debate. It is time to use Trump as a wedge to go after the party that nominated him… yet was so ashamed of the Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Hastert and every other GOP leader between Reagan & Ryan that the RNC only mentioned ONE of them! What a zinger.

3- Add to that the pure fact that most measures of U.S. national health do far better across Democratic administrations, and we'd be father along if the GOP congresses had passed the damn infrastructure bill.

4- Answer the 'deficit' attack on Obama by pointing out that our interest payments have hardly risen at all. And the rate of change of deficits is what matters! They always slow down during Democratic admins and speed up during GOP ones. Always. People can understand that!

5- List the professions that the right now attacks! Not just science, teaching, journalism, medicine, economics… but all of the knowledg or fact-using castes. Dare Trump to name an exception.

6- Regarding Trump preparing to call the election 'rigged'… demand he appoint five trusted-adults to a commission to investigate the charges NOW, before the election, with five appointed by former Republican supreme court judges like Sandra Day O'Conner. Dare him to do it now, for the sake of the republic.

7- Further challenge him to name five respected conservative sages to another commission to do fact checking! Now! Before the election, so he can't dismiss every single fact-checking service as partisan. The fact that Hillary Clinton has not done this is simply unforgivable negligence.

8- Talk about gerrymandering.

9- Talk about how for 20 out of 22 years, the GOP-led Congresses have been the laziest in U.S. history! That accusation does a judo around partisanship and attacks the character of those bozos.

Which is vital, Hillary, if you want to have a Congress. If you want a honeymoon that lasts more than fifteen seconds.

== What we can't ignore == 

I have long railed against the blatant cheating in U.S. elections, especially gerrymandering, which these analysts show to be largely responsible for the Republican Party holding on to the House of Representatives, despite large majorities of citizens having voted for their congressional opponents. The standard excuses, like a disadvantage to urban populations, collapse on scrutiny. Paul Ryan owes his speakership to cheating and only to cheating. And he knows it.

This is one of the biggest reasons the GOP’s donor caste is pouring in money - despite their loathing of Donald Trump. Were either Congress (through the 13th Amendment) or a new Supreme Court to end gerrymandering and other cheats, the GOP would lose not just following congressional elections but likely a dozen or so state assemblies, where the real corruption lies. The transparency that follows would benefit we citizens — as it has in states that have banned such practices, like California, Oregon, Washington and a dozen other blue states. (Notably only one red state.)

Hence the cash flows to Trump and especially to Republican congressional candidates. Because when this crime breaks, it will break big.

There are other cheats too, of course, such as rigging voting machines. In most blue states there is a paper receipt or paper ballot that ensures the voting machines can be audited randomly, by precinct.  This prevents cheating by machine rigging... in those states. But not in most red states, where almost any result can be ordered up, on command.

Then there is more old-fashioned cheating, by intimidation, which Donald Trump recently called for in minority neighborhoods.

== political miscellany ==

After 7 years rebuilding our shattered Army and especially the Reserves and National Guard - which had been almost destroyed by George W. Bush - the Obama Administration has focused on improving the training of Guard units to ensure they are rapidly effective in emergencies.  The mythology that Republicans are better at defense is one of perhaps three dozen proofs of utter ignorance and stupidity. By the end of BOTH Bush administrations, not a single major US Army unit was “fully combat ready” and reserve units were in tatters. By the end of both the Clinton and Obama Admins, every single major Army unit was so rated. Despite GOP-ordered sequesters that robbed defense in order to maintain Bushite tax cuts for the rich.

There are no metrics of national health - including conservative desires like military readiness and fiscal responsibility, that don’t do better across democratic administrations.  None.  Not one.

The Clinton Foundation is small potatoes.  It is one of its sub-projects - the Clinton Global Initiative - that has done the huge accomplishments, by negotiating treaties among stakeholders from governments to NGOs to corporations, arm-twisting cooperative commitments that led the the purchase of billions of dollars worth of AIDS and other medicines.  Yes, much of that spending would have happened anyway.  But Bill Clinton's gladhanding and arm-twisting and cajoling and negotiation prowess made the whole thing cohesive, efficient and focused.  The Clinton FOUNDATION mostly contributed by helping organize the meetings and applying some seed money.

However you look at it, you are left with the simple fact that Democratic ex-presidents and ex-VPs move on frenetic good works while GOP exes do the diametric opposite.  Noting could better outline the difference in fundamental personality.

== A good question ==

Why do evangelicals support Donald Trump? Turns out one trait overcomes any aversion to a philandering, gambling lord tax-cheater on his 3rd wife, who adores Putin and wants to pile ever-more huge tax breaks for the rich. Who surrounds himself with philandering multi-divorces and sexual predators and un-Jesus-like haters. What one trait overcomes all that?  Why, they share the same enemies, of course. Tribalism trumps all else.

Oh, one more reason? Well, Mike Pence is everything they want. (See? I  did circle back!) DT chose Pence as a peace offering to social conservatives. But he thereby proved his own low-IQ. Because even if he wins this election, Pence will betray him.

The Impeachment Gambit will let Ryan,  Rupert Murdoch and George Will seize back the party they see as “stolen” by Trump. All they need do is wait for some inevitable post-January Trumpian travesty. They’ll then tell the democrats: “Go ahead, impeach him. We’ll supply JUST enough GOP votes to ensure you’ll succeed.”

What a win-win! They get rid of the upstart and grab their party gravy train back with a puppet in the Oval Office… and no need to mollify DT’s infuriated followers; they can blame the democrats!  If the dems are so stupid as to fall for the trap.  I’ve written about the Impeachment Gambit before. And it is not just plausible. It is THE reason why Ryan, Murdoch & co are playing nice and working for Trump. If he wins, it is as inevitable as sunrise. 

== Post Debate roundup: Hillary's ten mistakes ==

Yes, yes, she won and most sane people are glad. Not my first choice but a solid, smart lady and I'll sleep well for four years.  (Even better if Paul Ryan is not 2 heartbeats away.)

Still, tactics are tactics and they could have been improved.  And I will give you my list Ten things Hillary might have done better, posted below in comments, as well as on the AmericanNewsX site..

Monday, October 17, 2016

Buckle your seatbelts... October surprises, cheating, and the things Clinton won't say...

This posting will be hurried, geting it in before the final debate. Like the rest of you, I am both fascinated-addicted and so, so, so eager for it to end.

First off, Trump challenged Clinton to take a ‘blood test” before the next debate. She should reply: 

“Sure Donald, we’ll both do that. But in return, you have to accept one of MY challenges! You (Trump) must appoint five sages to a fact-checking commission you’d accept as non-partisan. Including fact checking claims of electoral fraud. I’ll appoint five and Sandra Day O’Conner can appoint five.” 

If HC did that, she’d corner him, even if he refused! Refusing would look awful. And he’d know that accepting would eviscerate him.

== An October Surprise? ==

All my life there’s been talk of October Surprises, before any big U.S. election.  Ronald Reagan pulled one on Jimmy Carter and there were others in the small to intermediate range.  Today, the Trumpists are proclaiming such timing for the Access Hollywood “locker room” video and subsequent accusers of Trump's sexual predation. (See: Donald Trump self-sabotage gambit in Salon.) 
     Certainly, Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks collusion with Russian state hackers is aimed at knifing Hillary Clinton. Will there be more?

In this election cycle? Count on it! Assange is doubtless saving the worst for November. And Trump is already railing that the Iraqi assault on Mosul has been timed to give Barack Obama a big victory over ISIS, just before the election. (DT spent minutes in the 2nd debate pre-criticizing the Mosul assault for not being done ‘by surprise’ and thus allowing ISIS leaders to escape… proving that he has the military expertise of a 9-year old video gamer.)

Seriously, buckle your seatbelts.  There will be revelations of electoral hacks and sexual matters and foreign meddling and maybe a spilled Trump tax return.  These are Heinlein’s “crazy years.” 

Oh… one of you in the comments section suggested a scenario: “that the "Jail Hillary" bit was a stroke of genius! Not for the election but for after, when the Donald's crows come home to roost. Rape, tax evasion, fraud ....  Only now all of the "sensible" voices have said that you can't jail the losing candidate. Donald now has a "get out of jail free card" - just before he needs to use it.”


== Cheating at the polls?  Really? And WHO will do it? ==

If the election is rigged, who is doing the rigging? 

Trump never says. But note: in most battleground states – those he and HC are fighting over – elections are run by Republican politicians or appointees. In Florida, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah, the chief elections officer of the state is a Republican. (In Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Missouri it’s a Democrat.) 
Republican-run states do far more gerrymandering and voter suppression. The voting machines that do not offer audit ability with paper-backups are supplied by companies with GOP connections. So if there’s any fire under this smoke, Trump supporters should aim their ire at the GOP establishment.

Indeed, the presidential race is too closely watched for anyone to risk sneaky tactics. But I would bet you a dollar and a swallowed-bug that there will be tons of cheating down at the level no one is watching – state Assembly and Congressional races, where the Fox cabal is sweating real bullets, right now. (More on this, below.)
== How Might Trump Pull it out? ==

That’s the question some trumpist shill asked on Quora, in what must be the brashest and most delightfully impudent political move I have seen.  Almost no one on Quora supports Trump (since they have curiosity and ask questions.) Yet this prize challenge dares folks to compete (for a measly $250) offering the best suggestion how the GOP candidate might improve his flagging chances.  And plenty could not help themselves!  They answered.

I did too! * Though I deem it nearly impossible that DT will actually follow my advice. And here it is:

First and foremost, Donald Trump should stop with the damned rallies. The rallies have destroyed him. They cater to his frail-huge ego, feeding it with cheers for every outrageous thing he says, encouraging him to both ramp up the outrageousness and to gather a spectacularly unrealistic view the U.S. population, convincing himself that the narrow slice of Americans who attend his rallies is actually representative of the nation.

Had it not been for the rallies, DT would likely have done the expected veer to center. He could have - as a 'maverick’ - stunned us all and destabilized Clinton by behaving well at the debates and by abruptly dropping the most-insane GOP stances inflicted on the party by Murdoch-Ailes-Fox.

He could have dropped: (1) the war on science, (2) climate denialism, and (3) Supply Side never-once-right-voodoo economics.

Back in the spring he showed some hints he might! Had he done this, he’d have done a judo grab of moderates and college educated whites and even some women and some minorities, while keeping most of the rest of his conservatism.

This would also have done the nation a great service, by trashing those three insanities forever. Even in losing, he would have been credited for that.

Too late. His addiction is now in full fury. The tougher things get, the more he relies on the drug high he gets at the rallies, which in turn encourage him to behave in public and at debates in the same way that gets cheers at those testosterone-fests.

Watch one some time: you’ll see an addiction, playing itself out. (I can relate - slightly - as a public speaker. Audience response is a huge high.) Alas, he is not just torching himself and the GOP; he is also stoking maybe 15% of the population - his most zealous followers - with a frothing-volcanic hate that we’ve not seen since Timothy McVeigh, or perhaps the 1930s Nuremberg rallies.

They share his feedback loop. They will rage that he could only have lost by rigging. They will - at his urging - turn this civil war hot. Except for the rallies, he might have had a lining that was silver, and not flaming horror.

* (Go to that quora contest and vote for me! I'll spend the prize on a party at the 2018 worldcon! ;-)

== Back to the Cheat Below ==

Time to reiterate a point that no one else – I promise you – is making. Paul Ryan is discrediting Donald Trump’s allegations that the election will be “rigged.” And yes, that serves Ryan well, because it makes him look like an adult next to the tantrum-threatening Donald. Ryan is lining himself up for 2020.  And yet… the sci fi thriller side of me has another explanation.  That Ryan is pooh-poohing the likelihood that the PRESIDENTIAL election will be rigged… so that no one will look to closely at the election he really cares about…

…which is the equally important panoply of races for Congress and state assembly, all over the nation! Think about it.  Assume for a moment that the voting machines in many red states - which have no paper receipt systems for precinct count auditing (paper-audits exist in most blue states) - can be altered almost at-will. And why not? Without auditing, what is to stop the mostly-republican owners of voting machine companies from having a back door and using it?

Then they will not use that power to try to fix an already lost election for the White House.  They do not want scrutiny or attention focused lower down.  Even though those lower down races are where the real power in the nation (and corruption) can be found.

== Why evangelicals support Trump? ==

Given that he’s a philandering, twice divorced gambling lord with mob ties, who has ripped off his employees and contractors and bragged about abusing women… there truly is no other explanation for evangelical support than “he hates the same enemies that I hate!” In this exploration-article, it becomes clear that’s why fundamentalist Christians are rallying to Trump.

There is also an apocalyptic current. For Trump, it’s not morning in America, it’s just a few seconds before midnight on the doomsday clock…. He’s been slouching toward just about every kind of Armageddon imaginable, except the genuine planetary ones that are — or should be — almost unavoidable these days.” 

(In the Trump-Ryan vision of America, fervidly believed at those nuremberg-style rallies - "crime is running wild, inner cities are war zones, and hordes of violent immigrants are pouring across our open border. In reality, murder is at a historic low, we’re seeing a major urban revival and net immigration from Mexico is negative. And the counterfactuals go on and on...)

His “un-Christ-like” behavior contrasts with Clinton’s -- a church-going United Methodist who has long ties to leaders in the evangelical community. She taught Sunday school and, as a senator, attended weekly prayer breakfasts. ‘But white evangelicals’ anger toward Clinton, while at a fever pitch now, has been building for decades.’

The central pretext is, of course, abortion. Though here, yet again, the journalist misses a key point. HC has repeatedly said that her aim is to keep abortion, “safe, legal and rare.” The argument is that liberal actions like Sex Education, availability of contraceptives and family planning empower women and girls to control their choices and outcomes, resulting in fewer abortions.  The success of this approach is supported by facts and decisive statistics. For example, wherever the emphasis has shifted to “abstinence only” programs, the rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs and domestic violence go up. All have gone down in Blue America.

Refusal to face such blatant cause-and-effect outcomes comparison has become a hallmark of the re-ignited Confederacy’s culture war, especially the War on Science.

When confronted by the success of liberal programs at reducing the overall number of abortions, they respond with a purist stance, that “even one is too many.” Indeed, that might have been at least philosophically defensible, if it weren’t that every single anti-abortion measure taken in Red States – across the last decade – has been about making abortion incrementally more difficult for women experiencing a life choice.

In other words, using supply side methods to reduce the number and rate… as opposed to the democrats’ approach to achieving the same end, via the demand side.

(This supply-side/demand-side aspect just occurred to me!  You punctilious checkers out there, have you seen anyone ever raise this direct comparison between approaches to abortion policy and the two parties’ diametrically opposite economics? 

(As usual, the demand side approach seems to work, while supply side reduces to an insanely cruel methodology that has not ever – even once – correlated with reality.)

Note – though – the core hypocrisy. To maintain purism as a defense against the superior practical effects of liberal policy – incrementally reducing the overall number of abortions by educating and empowering women. Yet the pro-lifers have put forward only incremental means to make abortion more difficult, accomplishing nothing.

No. This is entirely about symbolism. The U.S. right once had an element that liked objective reality and pragmatism (e.g. post-1968 Barry Goldwater, often Richard Nixon and (at times) Ronald Reagan). Now it is 100% about symbolism, (exemplified by the GOP Congress obsessing on the naming of ships) and never on negotiated politics.

Symbolism-obsession also served the 1860s Confederacy well, for a while. At first. Till the America of science, pragmatism, negotiation and adulthood woke up and discovered its resolve. That same awakening is happening now. So dig this, dear red-neighbors. We will save the nation and planet and civilization for you folks.  In fact, I’ll bet that deep-down, it’s what you’ve been counting on, all along.

== A final direct appeal to Hillary Clinton ==

Seriously Madam Secretary, is your only aim to win the election and live in the White House again?  Maybe nominate a couple of Supreme Court justices?  If so, I'll still vote for you, but I am disappointed.  Because just running against Donald Trump will poison your term in several ways.

First, pundits and historians… certainly Republicans … will attribute your victory to the toxicity of your opponent.  They'll rationalize that you have no mandate and that the GOP deserves to come roaring back, in 2018, after shrugging off the ‘Trump Illness.’ 

Even worse, by focusing only on DT -- you mentioned the word “republican" only once in your first debate and hardly at all, in the second! And did not mention "Congress" at all — you are thus complicit if the GOP manages to hold onto their majority in the House of Representatives. With Paul Ryan then 2nd in line for the Presidency, you will experience four years of unrelenting hell. No “honeymoon' at all - and zero legislative accomplishment. Just ever-more nastiness from the laziest U.S. Congress in the history of the republic. Was that your goal?

It’s time to stop cozying up to fence sitters, hoping to peel away a few more presidential votes. All that will accomplish is to leave Trump-averse republicans pleased to split and vote for down-ticket GOP politicians. If you want your presidency to mean anything, you must:

- Cite Ronald Reagan, who famously (and effectively) said: "I did not leave the Democratic party, the democratic party left me." 

That was brilliant, effective and people remember it. Use that! You can say: "I did not agree with Reagan about that.  But there’s no way Reagan would be a Republican today. Blatantly the Republican Party leaders have abandoned all sense. They have ‘left’ Ronald Reagan and they have left *you*.”

- then deliver a zinger: "Did any of you notice at the recent Republican convention that they did not even mention the names of any GOP leaders between Reagan and Ryan?  Bush, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Hastert, DeLay, Ailes… "  (Emphasize Hastert and Ailes! Recently-confirmed sexual predators.) 

Yes, yes, I know you've been cozying up to the Bushes, lately, hoping to sway more ‘moderate’ republicans to defect. Stop it! They are of no use to you. Not compared to the possible chance of getting their grip off of Congress.)

- Talk about the sheer laziness of GOP Congresses! For 20 of the last 22 years, they have hardly met in session at all, or even held any hearings, except those that uselessly and futilely and obsessively hounded you!  Seriously.  Laziness is a charge that (1) is off-axis from usual politics, (2) is blatantly true, and (3) is a devastating attack on their character.

- Talk about the GOP war on science, education, medicine and every other profession that deals with facts and knowledge.

Seriously.  Stop making this about Trump!  That case has been made and 3/5 of Americans are sold on it.  Time to move forward!  It is time to get moderate conservatives to leave the undead elephant. 

You can do this.  Show us leadership and boldness.  In the next debate… mention the Republican Party!  It has ‘left’ America.


* PS.  Some have realized how Reagan could be used against the hijackers of American conservatism. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

As we move forward...

Just returned from giving speeches about artificial Intelligence and other fututure wonders/fears, for GE and Viacom. But there's time to squeeze in - for the weekend - a posting that's not  about the U.S. political civil war.  And hence...

Lest the media's obsession with bad news suggest that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues in an interview that things have actually gone a lot better over recent centuries, and at an accelerating pace. "A shift in the summum bonum, or the highest good, towards loose humanism, where life is better than death, education better than ignorance, health better than sickness," he says, "is what I believe we are seeing currently."

Why do more highly educated people veer toward liberalism? The Pew Research Center recently released a study showing that nearly a third of those who went to graduate or professional school maintain liberal views on social, economic and environmental matters, whereas this is true for just one in 10 Americans generally. "An additional quarter of postgrads have mostly liberal views. These numbers reflect drastic change: While professionals have been in the Democratic column for a while, in 1994 only 7 percent of postgrads held consistently liberal political opinions,” reports Neil Gross in The New York Times.

This might have been interesting as the introduction to an article about the topic. But the article failed to explore this thread in more depth.Though one thing is clear -- highly educated people are more cognizant of time horizons that encompass a recognition of change.  

The world was different in the past. That is not just a reason for nostalgia but also for recognition that change will continue. (The kind  of disruptive change that makes science fiction by far the most pertinent literature of our era.)

Liberalism is an attempt to harness and steer change. Hence it is not leftist per se... Marx thought that steering history was futile!  It is this belief that we can refashion ourselves and society using tools of discourse and/or science that makes the educated liberal.

Well... yes... compassion and empathy, too. But it is no accident that free enterprise, markets, entrepreneurship - all desiderata that supposedly the right cares about - do far better when liberals are managing the state. Sorry, it is a blatant and overwhelming fact, Jack.

== Looking to the Future ==

'Vessel' by Heatherwick Studios
Escher comes alive? An amazing concept for a structure to be built in New York’s Hudson Yards development. “Named ‘Vessel’, the interactive structure by Thomas Heatherwick is intended to be climbed, explored, and experienced. comprising 154 interconnecting flights of stairs.” Fascinating conceptual design.  And yet, I have to wonder about disabled access.  

And why each of the 80 landings could not subtly vary in theme?  Perhaps with gardens or planters or nano-display spaces for artists or science quirks? Sure, the architect would hate the “clutter.”  But there will be an elevator. Know that. And a spiral descent ramp. Two of them.  One for wheelchairs and one for skateboarders! I know how it could be done without much clutter.

The Journal of Posthuman Studies is a fully peer reviewed, multidisciplinary journal developed to analyze what it is to be human in an age of rapid technological, scientific, cultural and social evolution. Editors include James Hughes, University of Massachusetts, late of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. 

How does science free us from delusions? Reposted online, this podcast originally aired on February 14, 2013. Sci-fi author, David Brin, is the final guest in the Mendelspod series, Creating the Future. He says that everyone -- that civilization -- is creating the future. However, he concedes that if you were to compare civilization to a human brain, that "a few of us are the pre-frontal lobes . . . who poke sticks in the sand, in the trail ahead of us that we're charging into so that we can find the quicksand pits . . . before we step right into them." Quoth the Mendelspod folks: “Brin is an actor as well as writer and scientist. You're bound to be captivated by his command of science, history, politics, and by his entertaining wit.”

Some of the topics in this wide-ranging podcast:
 0:47 Who's doing the heavy lifting of creating the future?
 8:13 Imagination the great tragedy and boon of human nature
11:24 Science one of the four great pillars that freed us from the "Great Delusion"
15:35 When did you go from astronomer to writer?
24:23 Where are we going in the life sciences?
27:13 A contrarian on immortality
33:00 Renunciation, stopping the forward rush of science
37:46 "The American Revolution stuns me."
40:55 BONUS: The author reads from Existence

== Tools for the future ==

Looking toward a better future... education reformer Marc Prensky has an interesting new book out from Teachers College Press: Education to Better Their World: Unleashing the Power of 21st Century Kids.  “Marc Prensky offers us a lucid, inspiring, optimistic, doable, and crucial blueprint for how we can build a future with the schools that children desperately need.”

The Fidget Cube. This cube offers useless buttons designed to keep your hands busy. It seems to have struck a nerve... They asked for $15,000 on Kickstarter and got $6 million. Two more days to get one...

Wow… I’ve become pretty good at Power Point… it helps with half of my livelihood.  Still, this new Slidebot tool takes things to a new level, using quasi AI to find images on the web suitable for whatever text you are typing. Yeah. cue Twilight zone music.  But I intend to try it.  And you can export those slides into Power Point  or other familiar systems.

== not about the election! ==

The California legislature and Gov. Brown just approved legislation requiring a conviction prior to asset forfeiture. 

I often hold up California as the dynamic leader in U.S. governance… e.g having the best election laws in the country, that have reduced radical partisanship, encouraging pragmatism and negotiation and yes, even with the minority of moderate republicans. It helps that Gov. Jerry Brown – while liberal and dynamic and busy, is also skeptical of meddlesome over-reach for its own sake. He vetoes pretty often. All told, California is an utter refutation of the Foxite song that “divided government that does nothing is best.” Idiots. 

And yet… here’s a bill Jerry shoulda trashed. California's new 'Sale of Autographed Memorabilia' law requires a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) for any signed item worth more than $5. Failure to issue the COA could make the seller liable for ten times the value in damages. This will be hard on booksellers.... though I imagine it was targeted at Sports Memorabilia and Movie schlock and books may get a pass. 

The law is dumb and troglodytic. If provenance is a problem, some piece of paper won't solve it. Instead, take a PICTURE each time you sign an item and file the jpeg using a correlation app that will find that specific item by the shape of your signature - different each time! Much easier to do and to comply with the law and it can actually work! Correlating and verifying. Best of all it is not a stone-age 20th century "solution." Dingbats.

Fortunately, this is California. The law will be amended next year. Then amended again till the public and stakeholders care too little to make much noise. It is called real, functioning democracy. Democrats do it. Imperfectly! And it helps to have a Jerry Brown!

What this kind of bill demonstrates is that the Democratic-Republican divide is not left-vs-right… dems often DE-regulate much more than GOPpers do. 

No, it is manic-vs-depressive. The Democratic run CA legislature rushes about in a frenzy, adapting the state's laws to 21st Century conditions (it’s their job!), then modifying the modifications under comment/complaint from citizens and companies… then getting more feedback in public hearings and modifying again… Busy, busy, busy. And sometimes drawing vetoes from the liberal-but-pragmatic chief executive. (For the most part, it's good or neutral stuff.) Sure, manic is vexing, sometimes, like this silly autograph bill. 

But we move forward. Unlike the depressive side, as the Republicans have made 20 of the last 22 years of the U.S. Congress utterly useless, unable to pass even a basic budget! Unable to hold hearings about pressing matters or even issue subpoenas… except In pathetically partisan-nonsensical witch hunts. The nastiest but above-all laziest Congresses in U.S. history. Except for trillions of gushing tax gifts to the rich, and awful wars, can you name any accomplishments? 

Sorry.  Politics again. I yearn for an odd numbered year.