Is World War IV taking shape?

World economics seer Louis-Vincent Gave, of the Gavekal Partnership, has explained the pivotal meaning of the Crimea Incident in a larger context which he calls a looming “World War IV” — the conflict between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam, in which Sunnis control larger reserves of oil, but Shia populations are restive in the very places where that oil is pumped.

(Clearly, in its decades of tension and expense and geopolitical importance, the Cold War was a tepid-simmering “World War III.”)

WORLD-WAR-IVIf a rising axis of Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq takes hold – (the latter three Shia-ruled, currently) – then fear will tighten across the Sunni belt. Tensions will drive arms sales and raise oil prices, which is the only condition under which Russia prospers.  U.S. efforts to sap the strength of that alliance make a major reason for the Obama Administration’s peace efforts with Iran… which Vladimir Putin will try to wreck.

It is also a good reason to ponder whether Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan — himself politically embattled — might do the one thing that would settle matters in Syria… sending in the Turkish Army.  Even with the excuse of humanitarian reasons, it would be risky. (The threat to Russia’s Tartus naval base would raise tensions to stratospheric levels, though.)

Russia-Iran-Iraq-SyriaThe real locus of what-if pondering must zero in on Saudi Arabia.  Are they sufficiently unnerved by the Russia-Iran-Iraq-Syria axis… and simmering problems with their own restive Shia populations… to decide upon a change in policy?  To back off from their blatant efforts to manipulate and poison American political processes, for example, and to instead meddle in more constructive ways?

One ponders all this while reading the latest missive by veteran US diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross, who makes some interesting points about President Obama’s coming trip to Saudi Arabia in “Soothing the Saudis.” (LATimes Tuesday.) He refers to the Saudis biggest concern, the rise of militant Shiite Islam and an axis of Iran-Iraq-Syria that now includes an aggressively revanchist Russia. A problem that Louis-Vincent Gave referred to as “World War Four.”

Alas, Mr Ross ignores the elephant in the room. That the Saudis are not the victims in any of this. Their relentless push to establish extremist Wahhabi madrassas all over the Sunni Muslim world helped to create Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 attackers. Their own textbooks declare the west to be an evil place, to be tolerated only while necessary. Above all, they have ceaselessly striven, since 1948, to stymie any peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors. By pushing to keep Palestine as an open wound, they ensured only that the Levant region would remain embroiled and steeped in pain, never achieving what the Saudis’ Hashemite rivals once dreamed-of — an alliance between Arabs and Jews that could strengthen all concerned.

Sixty-plus years ago, they decided to keep the Arab-Israeli simmering at near-boil, instead of helping to end it.   Now, as negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis reach a critical juncture, the Saudis might sweeten the deal with financial incentives that would finally salve this awful wound. Israel and the Levant and Egypt and Arabia have potential far beyond mere oil, if they were to help foster synergies, instead of trumped-up enmities.

That might seem worthwhile, creating a core of strength all through the region that would solve the Saudis’ security problem without a shot.  Oh, but if only if those grandsons of a genius are half as smart as their ancestor.

== The Pentagon is concerned… ==

… about many things.  I spent an entire day there, a couple of weeks ago, consulting with strategic planners, who have a whole lot on their minds — like the resurgence of a militarily advanced and aggressive Russia, after the Bush-era leaders pretty much disbanded our peer-capable military in favor of insurgency-fighting SWAT teams. Still, that’s not what has the senior officers and officials breaking into a sweat.

The nation’s military leadership is in unified agreement that climate change is real, and also that it poses a clear and present danger to the US and especially its armed forces. “The Pentagon’s thinking is revealed plainly and publicly in its own 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review Quadrennial-defense-2014, which features no fewer than eight direct, specific, and unambiguous evaluations of climate change as it relates to geopolitics and military strategy.”

See also: The Pentagon’s Guide to Overcoming Climate Change Denial.

Ah, but the U.S. Officer Corps is no longer respected in the heartland.  As of November 2013, 23 percent of Americans said they “didn’t believe in” climate change.  Which will be about as effective as not believing in a bullet that’s been fired at your nose.  No wonder a cult-like tenor has set in, waging war not just on science but every other clade or profession of knowledge and skill in American life.

To be clear, the unequivocal position by the U.S. military has had some effects upon the Fox News party line.  Facts like Russian bases erupting along the Arctic Ocean and the opening of the Northwest Passage to summer shipping are pretty undeniable… so Hannity and company have veered to changing the message: “All right, the climate is changing… but… but… climate has ALWAYS been changing and that don’t mean we gotta do anything!”

In fact, that’s a lie, top to bottom.  The last 6000 years has been among the most stable, climate-wise, in the last 20 million… and even so, small perturbations like the 1500s Little Ice Age wrought horrible havoc on nations and peoples. Any astrophysicist will show you how closely Earth skates along the inner edge of our sun’s “goldilocks” or habitable zone… and hence why we can afford only traces of greenhouse gas.

But the greatest sign of stunning low-IQ is how Fox-viewers never notice the change in catechism!  From “there’s no warming!” over to “all right it’s hotter: but prove that it’s human generated!”  It’s like the millions of Glenn Beck followers who never once asked “WHICH eight foreign governments did you say George Soros toppled?”

Unscientific-AmericaThese and dozens of other, never asked questions show that this is the greatest know-nothing campaign against a sapient, scientific civilization in 150 years. Possibly since the Inquisition.  And you have to ask: what do Rupert and his partners hope to gain?

Finally, connecting this story to the preceding one, um… you are aware who Rupert’s top co-owner of Fox News happens to be?  Maybe the rising Russia-Iran-Iraq-Syria axis will convince that House to stop financially supporting Murdoch’s campaign against American sanity.

== Aw heck… while we’re on the subject… ==

“Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns a 7 percent stake in News Corp — the parent company of Fox News — making him the largest shareholder outside the family of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch. Alwaleed has grown close with the Murdoch enterprise…. Last weekend, at the right-wing Constitutional Coalition’s annual conference in St. Louis, Joseph Farah, publisher of the far right WorldNetDaily, blasted Fox News for its relationship with Alwaleed.”

Go ahead and dismiss the fact that this particular commentator is rather left wing. Or else… maybe look at the inarguably factual content and ask yourself if the hypnosis-rally at Fox News — which has deliberately torched any thought of compromise, negotiation or discourse in America — is really being perpetrated out of love of this country. Or else, perhaps, our Second Civil War is being instigated by those who want us harm.

== There’s a much bigger threat ==

TransactionFeeTerminateNew York State is (once again) stepping in to do what the US federal government should be doing (if it weren’t deliberately crippled by trumped-up civil war.)  New York’s attorney general has called for curbs on services provided to high-frequency traders, allowing giant firms with superfast AI systems to jump in between buyers and sellers and haul away the value that both saw in making a deal.  In nature this is called predatory parasitism, and I go into detail here: A Transaction Fee Might Save Capital Markets.

It is the next huge scandal.  It could easily be prevented. But the real reason to be concerned is deeper… much, much deeper.  It could make climate change look tame.

In related news…  One person is about to go nuclear in the financial computer arms race. He and his partners will make a $50 billion exaflop supercomputer for foreign exchange trading.

Ah… I, for one, welcome our new Skynet banker-overlords…

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Hypocrites stand up for Liars! While others hold out for truth…

= Hypocrites abandon all pretense of supporting competitive markets = 

Amici-curiae-cato-instituteOhio has a law on the books that criminalizes “lying” (as determined by the State) in political discourse.  In opposition, P.J. O’Rourke and the Cato Institute have filed what one observer calls “the funniest — and possibly best — amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court, ever.”

Yep… maybe, to today’s snarky-smug cynics it’s “best,” but I’m getting tired of this fellow who has spent his life ridiculing any standard of decent behavior, no matter how loosely applied.

Sure, there was a long stretch in my youth when giving the finger to “standards” was a necessary phase and boy did we boomers take to it!  The most self-righteous generation in history used our mighty Power of Indignation to take on all sorts of stodgy, repressive authority: right on!  Breaking ancient taboos that ranged from racism and sexism to uptight “morality” over normal human libido… a whole industry burgeoned around the ethos of “screw you dad!” And in large measure — despite his heroism against Hitler and all that — Dad had it coming.

But self-righteousness can become a nasty habit and it is currently poisoning America, in particular.  Moreover, it just downright stupid to claim that there are NO standards that decent people might universally apply.  Like “don’t deliberately harm people.”  And “don’t repeat deliberate, out-and-out lies that you’ve been confronted with, countless times and that you know damned well to be false.”

Cato-HypocrisyIn denying even that extremely loose and generous definition of “lying,” P.J. O’Rourke’s credibility is like the so-called “libertarian” “scholars” at Cato, an intellectual brothel, bought and paid for by an oligarchy that hires mouthpieces to concoct rationalizations and excuses for an oligarchic putsch that will end real competition, real capitalism, real competitive enterprise and real freedom. We’ll say anything you want, oh masters who pay the bills.

They fulfill what has become a complete (and unnoticed by media) betrayal of Adam Smith and the American founders — who knew very well one core fact: that the truest enemy of freedom and fair competition has seldom been civil servants.  Across 6000 years, most of the time, those good things were routinely crushed by cabals of cheating, competition-suppressing owner-feudal lords. The same caste that Smith and the Founders denounced.

In this particular case, it’s no wonder that O’Rourke and Cato snark and sneer and ridicule — calling today’s tsunami of organized lying “part of political discourse.” The ability to lie without consequences s fundamental to the Koch-Murdoch-Sa’udi campaign to destroy American aptitude for pragmatic negotiation and instead stoke Civil War. (In fairness, it was part and parcel of the far-left, back when they were the most looming threat to freedom. Even today, the left spawns something called “postmodernism” that also denies the existence of any kind of verification or truth.)

No scientist would ever have any truck with such nonsense.  Nor any medical doctor, teacher, journalist or any of the other clades of knowledge who are declared to be enemies by this new Know Nothing movement. Yes, much in life is contingent, arguable, unproved or at least tentative, but the crux of science is that we build a hierarchy of improving models.  And there comes a point where we can say “that’s simply false.”

Cato-O'Rourke-Fox-News-Supreme-CourtThe Big Liars’ goal – to make slander and deception consequence-free – has a perfect illustration: Fox is the only “news” outlet ever to sue not for protection from inadvertent errors or accidental falsehoods but from any accountability for relentlessly repeated and knowing lies.

Oh, the snarks by Cato and O’Rourke can be funny and indeed, they have a point. As illustrated in Kurt Vonnegut’s classic satire “Harrison Bergeron,” law-centered “solutions” to human deficiencies in character are inherently problematic.  Naturally, one can concoct a worst-case version of an anti-lying law to ridicule as an example of statist-meddling, thought-policing and nanny-finger-wagging prudery. O’Rourke is really good at skewering that sort of thing.  We boomers specialize in sarcasm. (And our vastly better kids will make a great world, when our sanctimonious boomer asses shuffle off this mortal coil.)

But that is not how anti-deception laws would work in any real America, and O’Rourke knows it.  Any such law would have to put stiff burdens of proof on the accuser that an assertion was deliberately public, known to be factually false, that the perpetrator had ignored repeated confrontations with the truth, and that the perpetrator was abusing a position of public trust.  Moreover, the sliding scale of penalties would consist almost entirely of retractions.

DisputationArenasArrowCoverIndeed, one potentially great outcome would be public fora for weighing factual evidence, as I describe in my Disputation Arenas paper. Looseness is an essential feature of American life and no one will go after internet polemicists bandying stupid-ass untrue jpegs.

But there has to be a backstop!  A point where relentlessly repeated lying by media hits a wall called Proved Truth. A point where the resulting shaming actually reduces the public credibility of the Goebbels-level Big Lie machines, out there.

That sort of thing will not suppress discourse.  It will sway discourse toward something we used to be good at.  Conversation.  Fair argument.  Debate.  Comparison of real evidence. And, ultimately, a word that the Murdochians do their best to rail against, hobble, cripple and destroy… negotiation.

Only dig it… the whole thing will soon be moot as technology provides us with actual, bona fide lie detectors.  They aren’t here yet, but as this article shows, researchers are zeroing in.

And see where it may go.

== A Miscellany of much smarter people… ==

…than the Cato sellouts surrounds us!  Let’s start with a woman who is incredibly American. “A California woman who applied for American citizenship had her application rejected because she identified herself as a “conscientious objector” who will not bear arms for the United States because she objects to war on secular moral grounds.” She wrote: “As a woman in my mid-30’s, I understand that it is unlikely that I will ever be asked to take up arms to defend this country. I could have easily checked ‘yes’, sealed the envelope, and sent it out,”  so, let’s see — taking a self-righteous moral stance on abstract principle, knowing that (1) the matter is of moderate memic importance and (2) that she’ll actually suffer very few negative outcomes…?  Yep. She’s already a real American. Proud to keep her.

Is MJ Harmless?  I have always liked California’s outspoken, slightly weird but fantastically effective Governor Jerry Brown. He so often hits the nail on the head. “California Governor Jerry Brown said he is not sure legalizing marijuana is a good idea in his state because the country could lose its competitive edge if too many people are getting stoned.”

Oh I can hear howls from most of you, out there. And mark me: it is terrific that we are finally moving away from the insipidly insane and counterproductive Drug War!  Marijuana is a lesser problem and should be treated as a minor vice, compared with so many others. And yet…

… those who go too far the other way and say it is not a vice, at all, are coo-koo birds.  Sure, as with alcohol, millions can use it once a week with no deleterious effects. And even habitual users aren’t dangerous to others, the way alcohol abusers can be!  And yet… those who deny MJ’s one major down side are hypocrites or blinkered fools.  For a large fraction of heavy users, it is an Ambition Destroyer.  It mellows guys down below the energy level it takes to get up and get innovative-transforming work done.  You all know guys like that.  And just because MJ is not the problem that puritan idiots said it was… that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem at all… one that we should keep thinking about.

And you can see the common theme with my screed about the mockers of all standards (above).  Just because a prudish system was 90% wrong, don’t compound the travesty by ignoring the 1% that was core and right.

Is the “age of the gun” as the Great Equalizer over?  See a thought-provoking argument that the past 700 years have been the Age of the Gun – when barely-trained infantrymen were the basis of military power. Says Chris Phoenix: “The implication I see is that Enlightenment ideals may have been based on, or at least supported by, the fact that a fairly small amount of work and training could create an army out of ordinary people.  But a quadcopter-mounted gun beats an infantryman.  So what happens, socially, when the leaders no longer have any fear at all of the people?”

Jefferson-rifleMy answer: It all depends.  This assumes that citizen militias cannot have quasi equivalent quadcopters. An Orwellian state would make sure of that.  But an Orwellian state does not mix well with the ethos that still reigns in the civilian population from which the military draws its recruits.  (The Animal House ethos that P.J. O’Rourke embodies.) Which makes it very hard to make a cohesively repressive occupying force, or a very large coterie of defection-free henchmen.  See this illustrated in the 2008 film about drones called SLEEP DEALER.   And in my own novel EXISTENCE… and in this discussion of “The Jefferson Rifle.”

Oh, but finally… These guys are a hoot!  The “New Monarchists” actually dare to show their faces… as we near the anniversary of the week when two microcephalic grandsons of Queen Victoria ignored every plea by real statesmen and plunged the world into a war from which today, a century later, we are still recovering.  Indeed, these guys are focusing especially on the Romanov (czarist) house and even suggesting Putin marry into it for legitimacy!

Oy!  Talk about microcephalic!

Preposterous-plausible-quoteWant an irony?  My short story “The Fourth Vocation of George Gustaf” makes the argument for a mild constitutional monarchy better than any of these guys do! So does Robert Heinlein’s DOUBLE STAR.  And mind you, neither of us really believed it!  I mean Gee Wiz, if you’re going to make a case for the preposterous, at least make it sound vaguely plausible.

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Do We Want Political Dynasties?

== Come on… must we? ==

The verdict has been declared… at least by one political seer. “ It’s over: Jeb Bush will be the GOP nominee in 2016.”

Political-dynastiesOy!  And with Hillary the democratic heir-apparent — and with the next-generation George P. Bush running for office in Texas… and rumors of Chelsea Clinton – where does that put us, dynasty-wise?

Mind you, I have very different opinions of these two clans, one of which oversaw twin eras of absolutely perfect mis-rule and ruin for the United States, without a single positive outcome in any metric, while the other is recalled as generally effective and decent — if fraught with a few personal flaws.

Still, do we really want this?

Way back in 2007, I suggested a bit of theater to put it all in satirical perspective. Picture a black-turtleneck-clad greek chorus holding up alternating pictures as they chant. The first round consists of just one phrase as they hold up one placard, labeled “1980″ — that shows the gipper with Bush Sr.

The second round repeats showing 1980, then the same pair again, labeled “1984.”  Then 1980 and 1984 with one more added… Bush Sr. alone in 1988… You can envision each round getting longer as we then add Bill Clinton twice, then Bush Junior twice, each time reiterating a chant that adds one more layer…









That last chant would have shown Hillary 2008. We’d then repeat the whole thing culminating in her second term. Then repeat again for 2016 showing Jeb… and Jeb again in 2020… and then… Chelsea?

Read the whole script here: Reagan Bush, Reagan Bush, Bush Clinton…

And yes, history passed that scenario by.  Though… why not resurrect the work of satirical art, updated and revised? All that’s needed is to interrupt the repetitious chant with a double pause while the chorus offers a respite of two hosannahs… O-Bah-mah! O-Bah-mah! … before going back to the rhythmic Battle of the Dynasties.

If any street theater types want to pull off this satire, I can offer the whole script.

To be clear… I have no major beef with Hillary Clinton.  And Jeb does seem to be the least awful of his calamitous clan. Still, as I said earlier… oy. We don’t have to do things this way.

== “Ostrich” conservatives! There are places for you! So lift your heads ==

Ostrich-conservativesI have mentioned before that among the crucial demographic of “ostrich conservatives” — millions of decent folks who are in desperate in denial over  the hijacking of their once-intellectually rich movement go giants like Goldwater and Buckley – are waking up and lifting their heads to confront its veer down insanity lane.  Ashamed of the War on Science and the abandonment of any pretense of support for small business or fiscal responsibility — or even common sense — some genuine discussion is happening at THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE Magazine.

Another Goldwater-Buckley type wrote to me about the Hoover Institution:

“Interestingly, some good climate scientists are (or at least were) Republicans (Jim Hansen, Richard Alley, Kerry Emanuel, and some folks at the Hoover Institution, like George Shultz, who helped to fight the Tesoro/Valero/Koch initiative to undo AB32, and who gushes over his Nissan Leaf.  Unlike most of these thinktanks, that’s actually (mostly) a center of legitimate conservative thought, of the old-style conservatives, not Tea Party. It is certainly disheartening to see the disappearance of the oldstyle moderate Republicans, like Sherwood Boehlert or Olympia Snowe.”

Alas, in the Murdochian push to reclassify “libertarianism” as purely anti-government, rather than pro-competition, the Powers that have done the hijacking are foisting on us ravers like Judge Andrew Napolitano, whose recent rants – based 100% on concocted falsehoods – against Abraham Lincoln clarify their purpose.  To ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people SHALL perish from the Earth.  Hm… I wonder why billionaire feudal-lord inheritance oligarchs would want that….

==  political miscellany ==

When May I Shoot a Student? An essay in which a Boise State University professor comments (tongue in cheek I hope) about the many advantages of Idaho’s (soon to be) new law allowing guns on university campuses. A work of art that will make simultaneously laugh and cry…. What a crazy country we live in!

How to respond to people who claim the ACA didn’t originate from the GOP.  Better yet just repeat this to republicans. “Obamacare was your… own… damn… plan.

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Small wonders… a sampling for the coming spring

No overall theme, this time.  Just a small collection of worthy links to amuse.

No doubt you’ve already read and heard the biggest cosmological news in about ten years… Researchers say they’ve discovered that gravitational waves rippled through the fabric of space-time in the first sliver of a second after the Big Bang, the first direct evidence for a mysterious ultra-rapid expansion at the dawn of the universe. If confirmed, it would represent one of the most profound insights in decades to emerge from the field of cosmology.

Tiny variations in polarization in the microwave background appear to reveal wave-pattens that can only (most cosmologists seem to think) reveal the basic structure of “inflation”… Alan Guth’s notion that the universe expanded vastly faster than light speed during the first microscopic fractions of its first second of existence.

WiFi-virusThe First Contagious Air-borne WiFi Virus: Attempting to emulate a cold virus, a team designed and simulated an attack by a virus, called “Chameleon”, and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.

Zello private radio allows ad hoc walkie talky systems. Look up how it becomes the most popular app suddenly in countries where mass demonstrations are arising, because it bypasses the cell phone companies and government control (somewhat).  Exactly the kind of system I’ve been calling for, for years.

Oh, but do your very wheels betray you? All cars tires sold since 2004 have had RFID tags embedded. The Tires are read at various airports and high traffic centers. Beginning next year, all Korean tires will come equipped with RFID – to automate inventory management and maintenance.

Now this sure ain’t gonna work: various state legislators aim to rein in the powers of the National Security Agency and the American surveillance state with bills that would limit cooperation by state officials or slow the distribution of state resourceslike turning off the NSA’s access to local Utah water.  Riiiiight.

But careful with that Corbomite Device!  Boeing has quietly filed papers with the FCC for a phone that self-destructs if you tamper with it. It’s called the Boeing Black, of course.  I just want the app that  starts a loud countdown on my phone.  Heck, even as a ring tone! (Remember those?)

=== Miscellany ===

Shared ancestry: More than 70% of Jewish men and half of the Arab men whose DNA was studied inherited their Y chromosomes from the same paternal ancestors who lived in the region within the last few thousand years.

This F35 pilot proved three things: 1- how terrific his plane is and 2- that he is a master stick-jockey… and 3- that he badly needs to be grounded and assigned to dig ditches for 6 months, in order to learn to grow up.   Except… ooops… dang the reality of these newfangled game effects!  Never mind.  Still…. it is so way cool to watch. .

LITERARY-WORLD-ELITISTHow to suck at game design: Why Marketers fear the Female Geek.

Should authors avoid the word “crepuscular?” Laura Miller takes on the issue: Is the literary world elitist?  in Salon, writing:  “It’s usually those with the least faith in their own opinions who become the most outraged when the consensus does not agree with them.”

Huh.  Infographic about factors involved in happy vs unhappy marriages.  Interesting.

MIT researchers make a decent water filter from the sapwood in pine tree branches.

== Over-rule Nature! ==

Now here’s an interesting item. “Reducing Wild Animal Suffering.” An hour long philosophical presentation… of the proposition the humanity is duty bound to aggressively intervene in nature and reduce or eliminate the agony and death that are core elements of the lives of wild creatures.

Reducing-Animal-SufferingThese guys talk around the point for an hour, arguing that if we dislike suffering and want to reduce it, we are obliged to work hard to ease suffering everywhere, not limited by species boundaries. In other words, as Clifford Simak portrayed in CITY, we should move toward remaking the world in a fashion far kinder than the situation that emerged in Genesis, after the expulsion from Eden.  A proposal that is fascinating… and yet also utterly predictable in light of the propelling habit of western civilization to “expand horizons.” Indeed, see it portrayed in my novella “Stones of Significance.”

These guys try to cover all bases… and fail miserably in just an hour, since they leave out 10,000 implications. For example, they shrug off theology. They assume that suffering is evil when it is a quantitative not qualitative difference from the sensory inputs we require, to survive. They fail to make Temple Grandin’s point that the best slaughterhouses may be far gentler than the ways that most animals die, in nature. They allude, in passing, to the need for humanity to impose a vast program of nanotech-computerized birth control on all macro species and probably bacteria, as well. They demand a qualitative on-off moral switch that is simply shifted over an arbitrary amount, when a sliding scale would be both sensible and vastly easier to set in motion, allowing each generation to increase intervention smoothly, as capabilities increase. Could attempts to do this even explain the Fermi Paradox?  And so on…

Still, I enjoyed the mind-challenge, which is essentially about extending the range of our ambitions to the very fabric of creation, criticizing its original (intelligent or natural) design.  Nice class project.

== more miscellany! ==

The Next Godzilla. Okay, I admit this one is badass… tail-dragger or not!

What-if-xkcdIf you’re a fan of the marvelous science webcomic xkcd — or if you just like to wonder about”What if…” possibilities, take a look at Randall Munroe’s first book, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.

In great news for fans of MacGuyver fiction — powerful muscles are produced by twisting and coiling high-strength polymer fishing line and sewing thread.  Twisting the polymer fiber converts it to a torsional muscle that can spin a heavy rotor to more than 10,000 revolutions per minute.  Subsequent twisting, so that the polymer fiber coils like a heavily twisted rubber band, produces a muscle that dramatically contracts along its length when heated, and returns to its initial length when cooled. Twisting together a bundle of polyethylene fishing lines, whose total diameter is only about 10 times larger than a human hair, produces a coiled polymer muscle that can lift 16 pounds. Operated in parallel, similar to how natural muscles are configured, 100 of these polymer muscles could lift about 1,600 pounds.  Oooh ooh!  Make a netktie of the stuff… body heat from the victim then causes….

What portion of Wikipedia edits are generated by humans versus bots?  As crowdsourced Wikipedia has grown too large — with more than 30 million articles in 287 languages — to be entirely edited and managed by volunteers, 12 Wikipedia bots have emerged to pick up the slack.

Remember the debris-grabbing tether that my astronaut uses in the first chapter of Existence? Now the European Space Agency wants to test a mission to try it. Decades of launches have left Earth surrounded by a halo of space junk: more than 17 000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup, which threaten working missions with catastrophic collision. Even a 1 cm nut could hit with the force of a hand grenade.  “Apart from deorbit options based on flexible and rigid connections, techniques are being considered for raising targets to higher orbits, including tethers and  electric propulsion.”

Finally, Eli Williamson-Jones has this fun little film group that did a  philosophical look comparing both the film The Postman and one of my podcast ravings about the possibility of building a decent civilization. You might find it diverting… especially at the end when there’s this little Jason Silva riff called Existential Bummer.

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YOU can start a shift in U.S. politics

U.S.-POLITICS-2014You Americans out there: it’s time.  The primaries are approaching, which means you and all your friends have a chance to vote in the only 2014 elections that truly matter… the ones in the spring, not the fall!  Tell everyone you know to use this one little trick and we all, as individuals, can help defeat gerrymandering… and thus help de-radicalize American politics.  YOU can  do it.  By getting all your friends to re-register using this one little trick…

== The parties are the same? ==

That is the new mantra being fed to depressed “ostrich republicans,” who can tell that their party has gone insane, but are scratching for any excuse to hold on to their old loyalties… “They’re all corrupt statists… so let’s assume the dems are worse and hold your nose and vote GOP!”

Look, I am conservative enough to prefer a budget that’s close to balanced, and libertarian enough to think government should be very tightly scrutinized and always need to satisfy a burden of proof, that its services would not be better performed by… us.  I show such trends — toward a devolution of government activity to tech-empowered citizens — in EXISTENCE.  Indeed, anyone who shares those desires… along with wanting a scientific, flat-and-open, just and entrepreneurial and future-looking civilization… would have to be crazy to support the current (hijacked) version of the GOP.

Deficit-declineOne graphic shows clearly how gullible are all the watchers of Fox News, who actually believe the rant that Democrats are the fiscally irresponsible big-spenders.  It starts with the Clinton era surpluses then shows how revenues initially dropped under the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy… without any “supply side” (SS) rebound.  (SS has never predicted correctly, even once.)

Watch the the spectacular (9/11/Iraq/Afghanistan) rise in spending – and in taxation (now pounding the middle class) –  under republican rule, then even steeper, after they torched the economy and revenues plunged in Bush’s last two years. Then?  The chart shows federal spending almost perfectly FLAT under Obama, proving the one truth that should make any fiscal conservative vote democratic.  That the 2nd derivative of deficit is always negative under demmies and almost always positive under goppers.

Show this.  Remind your crazy uncle that we narrowly avoided a second great depression.

This is not about classic left-right issues.  It is about insanity.

== Wisdom from … Osama bin Laden? ==

Anyone — including Buckley-Goldwater conservatives — who believes that the currently constituted Republican Party — the version owned by Rupert Murdoch — with its heritage of Bushite calamity — should ever again be trusted with anything more than a burnt match, should contemplate the following quotation from Osama bin Laden.

“All that we have to do is to send two mujahedin to the furthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.

“This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahedin, bled Russia for ten years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat… So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”  

Osama bin Laden

Quagmire-warIt’s not that Osama wasn’t our enemy.  He deserved to die (note who killed him) and the Taliban who assisted him deserved to fall.  But did we have to chase him in exactly the fashion that he wanted us to?  In exactly the way that the 9/11 attacks were designed to entice? Plunging — Russia-style — into a futile, absurdly senseless exercise in so-called “nation-building,” into a quagmire attrition of insurgency in Asia?  Didn’t we learn that mistake in Vietnam?

Note that my complaint is in no way “leftist.” It is as one who actually thinks rather well of Pax Americana — compared to all other eras across all of human history. As one who believes that PA must remain a strong and calming world leader for at least another decade or two or three. One who knows many generals and admirals, most of whom (at one level or another) have expressed horror over being so badly led during the Bush years.

Frankly, I do not care if this quotation attributed to bin Laden is real or an urban legend. It blatantly expresses what the 9/11 attacks were for. And the Bushites knew this when they plunged us into trillions of dollars of waste and thirteen years of agony, leaving only two victors on the battlefield. One was Iran…. and the other group was Bush family companies like Haliburton and Bechtel.

democrats-republicans-wage-war(See the extremely different ways that (fundamentally) Democrats and Republicans wage war. )

This is not about who’s a pussy.  It is about who is competent.  Who preserves the reserves and keeps readiness high. Who is smart enough to avoid blatant traps that only overcompensating small-organ twits would fall for. The kind of overcompensating twits who are the opposite of Patriots, no matter how loudly they yell “Yoo Hess Hay!”

== Return of the Feudal Pyramid ===

Treasure-islands-shaxson Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxson, takes a somewhat radicalized investigative expose of how the corporate world uses tax havens to shirk paying its share of taxes. This costs the United States alone 100 billion dollars in lost revenue each year.  As you dive into this subject, the only question that keeps popping up is “am I being insufficiently radical in my anger over this?”

Now we see why the mantra of the new-right and of the hyper-libertarians is “death to all government” as a matter of fundamental principle, instead of the older movement to minimize or reform.  It must be absolute war, because only civil servants stand in the way of utter feudal oligarch. Hence civil servants must be “statist” satans… nothing less. Let’s ignore that for 6000 years the enemy of freedom was oligarchic feudalism, whose rebirth is chronicled in books like this… till the lords forbid books like this altogether.

Liberal moderates can fight back by reclaiming “the first liberal” – Adam Smith - as their very own. His call for flat-open-fair-accountabble competitive markets included uplifting all children to a level playing field.  A level field whose destruction is the sole and central goal of the New Lords.

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Standing Up for Abe Lincoln

I generally approve of Jon Stewart.  Among many reasons: he brings top opposition guests onto his show and argues with them respectfully, hearkening back to the style of William F. Buckley, on Firing Line… only punctuated with a little elevated potty humor. Stewart’s mostly-liberal audience follows his lead and is generally gracious to major Republican officials or authors… who flock to The Daily Show in order to hawk their books.  Which apparently do gain sales boosts, because Stewart’s viewers are open-minded and curious.  (Otherwise, those Republican authors would stop coming.)

In fact, Stewart has more top opposing guests on his one show than the entire Fox News network. (If you subtract the “adult in the room” at FN — Bill O’Reilly — FN would score zero, most months.)

jon-stewart-napolitanoHence, I wan’t too surprised when Stewart invited Judge Andrew Napolitano to convey his recent tirade – a real hit on Fox – against Abraham Lincoln. It’s one of the most spectacularly deceitful and perniciously vile rants we have seen in an era rife with vile rants, but on the Daily Show Napolitano was allowed to argue his point with Jon Stewart. Then guest historians (in a faux game show called “The Weakest Lincoln“) shot down Napolitano’s purported “facts” amid a tenor of friendly humor. The judge chuckled amiably. Sure. Fine.  I guess.

Still, I was drawn to recall something I read just last November, referring to how the angry white males of the New Confederacy are now dumping all their former heroes, like Adam Smith, whose version of open-fair-flat capitalism is no longer suited to the right’s narrative… and the leader that their parents loved above all others:

150-Lincoln-Gettysburg“How ironic, for this coincides with the passing of the Greatest Generation – men and women who fought down the curse of Hitlerism, who overcame the First Great Depression, who embraced the plan of Marshall, Truman, Acheson and Eisenhower to contain communism peacefully until its fever broke… without nuclear annihilation. All so that their unique nation might live.

“A generation that created the mighty American middle class, amid a burst of entrepreneurial productivity so fantastic that their children could afford to take on ancient evils that all others had taken for granted, like racism, sexism and environmental blindness.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled in those mighty causes shared one trait more common than any other.  The Greatest Generation adored Franklin Delano Roosevelt – once compared lovingly and in all ways to Lincoln — but who now one third of our fellow citizens have been talked into equating with Satan Incarnate.

“How long until the same thing is done to Honest Abe?”

Okay, I didn’t just read that, last November… I wrote it, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Indeed, that posting was one of my best and far more worthy of your attention than this little growl.  But it came to mind as Andrew Napolitano’s hateful slander began spewing across the Rupert-verse…. crashing upon the shore of The Daily Show. This spiteful revisionist attack upon Lincoln.

== The essence that Jon Stewart misses ==

denunciation-proclamation Stewart had dealt with some of Napolitano’s incantations in an earlier show. And mind you, there was time to only deal with a few of Napolitano’s “inventive” interpretations of history. Like the fabrication that slavery was “on its way out” in America by 1860 when, in fact, every historical analysis shows it to have been fantastically profitable for the top 0.1% plantation owners — though an economic disaster for poor whites.  Indeed, the total value of southern exports of cotton and tobacco exceeded ALL northern industrial exports at the time.  His screed is based on that outright lie.

Alas, many other falsehoods were left unanswered.  For example, Napolitano asserted the southern states’ top grievance was largely about tariffs.  A howler that slides past because half-educated folks vaguely recall that John C. Calhoun had threatened secession around 1830 over tariffs.  But a closer look shows that the 1830s levels were rescinded to appease the South.  Soon the South took over the federal government for three decades!  By 1860, tariffs were at their lowest rate in half a century.  In other words, the judge just keeps those bald-faced lies a-coming.

PAST-civil-warOf the “grievances” that filled the secession declarations, there is no  mention of “tariffs” or “states rights” even once, though “slavery” is praised in glowing terms in the S. Carolina document, thirty or forty times. The notion that such people would simply have let Lincoln “buy” the slaves’ freedom isn’t just laughable… it is functionally insane.

In fact, the Civil War did not start with the firing on Fort Sumter.  It began in 1852 with the passage – and brutal enforcement – of the Fugitive Slave Act, which led to invasion and outright raids of northern states by squadrons of irregular southern cavalry, committing outrages and depredations from Illinois to Pennsylvania, supported first by southern-appointed U.S. Marshals and later – when locals began resisting – by federal troops.  These slave-catcher raids, smashing into homes, terrorizing neighbors and dragging off friends you knew since childhood, were the prime provocation that radicalized northerners into re-starting their dormant militias. It is what drove many of them to support Lincoln.

Read more about this!  Napolitano rages at Lincoln for continuing to let US Marshals catch and return a few slaves after the Civil War began.  But note these were all along border states like Kentucky, that he was desperate not to rile up and to keep in the Union — touch and go in the first two years.  That may have been iffy realpolitik, but it does not make Lincoln a “kettle” next to the Confederacy’s volcanically evil coal.

== The miscalculation ==

All right, all of that does not matter. What matters is that this time, Jon Stewart deeply miscalculated. He thinks he put Napolitano in his place, amid general hilarity and joviality, by showing some college professors refuting his “facts.”  But watch the clip and look at the judge’s face!  His smile.

He is winning.  Because he is not playing to Stewart’s Daily Show audience. And he is not doing this to convince a majority of Americans.  Certainly not those who would listen to a college professor!

GettysburgAddressLincolnGovernmentNapolitano is part of the Murdochian campaign to keep just 25% of the U.S. public riled up in frothing fury. A New Confederacy that’s so far around the bend they’ll help tear down every consensus effort and success of the American republic since FDR… and even since Lincoln.  So stoked on hatred of “government” that they sincerely want to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people SHALL perish from the Earth.”

Older Republican icons are now toxic. Dwight Eisenhower is assailed as a lackey of FDR. Richard Nixon is called a “liberal”  … (compared to today’s GOP)… and Ronald Reagan is barely mentioned, so soft, progressive and “green” he now seems, by comparison. Confronted with the pro-competition positions of Adam Smith — warning against oligarchy — rightist shills now dismiss Smith as “archaic.”

ReclaimAdamSmith(See “Liberals Should Reclaim Adam Smith: The ‘First Liberal‘!”

Should we be shocked that this radicalization now extends to Abe Lincoln? The Sumter shots of  re-ignited Civil War have been landing for more than a decade in the America that pays the taxes, invents, creates wealth and forges the future. Like our forebears, we who are of cooler blood, steadier emotion and scientific-mindedness have been slow to realize the fiery heat of this assault.  But we’re not lesser men and women than those blue legions who finally stood up when pushed too far.

I said it much better here.  If we must, we’ll rouse and — peacefully, with malice toward none and charity for all, but with the firmness of purpose to do the right, as God allows us to see the right — we’ll struggle for our Union. So that the great American Experiment may go on.

Tuesday evening on The Daily Show, author Paul Taylor discussed the millennial generation and his book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.  In discussion with Jon Stewart, Prof. Taylor said that the clade following the millennials… encompassing those born after 2000… does not yet have a name.  Um, well… may I weigh in?

Way back in 1989, in my novel EARTH, I portrayed folks in the 2030s referring to this generation as “blackjacks”… because they were the first ones born in Century Twenty-One.

Blackjack? Twenty-one? Get it?  Cool, eh?  Oh… never mind…

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Rewriting History and Revisiting 300

300RiseOfAnEmpireAll right, so the sequel is out… and doing well.  The stylish combat film “300: Rise of an Empire” topped the box office last weekend with  $45.1 million, seven years after the original Miller-Snyder flick “300” became an international hit.  I haven’t seen the new one yet, but two thoughts occur to me:

(1) This sequel covers precisely the parts of the story that I have pushed for, ever since the first “300” came out.

That original film, based on a comic book by Frank Miller, told egregious historical lies, cramming into the mouth of the Spartan general- Leonidas — things that he would never have said.  For example dripping contempt for the Athenian shopkeepers and potters and fishermen who had destroyed an entire Persian army, just ten years before, at Marathon.

Spartans still stung with shame over having stayed out of that fight.  But to have Leonidas rant… while ignoring what was in plain view from his cliff-edge… an Athenian-led navy holding the vast Persian fleet at bay, guarding his flank… that omission in “300″ slandered Leonidas and betrayed the audience.

300-MILLERAcross six years, I’ve occasionally written about the travesty that the original “300″ perpetrates, not only against factual history but against the very notion of democracy and citizenship and the power of volunteers defending their people, homes and nation. I suggested, that any sequel focus on Themistocles and the Athenian fleet – and on the notions of volunteer citizenship that enabled them to keep succeeding where Startans failed — with flashbacks to Marathon and then moving forward to the glorious victory at Salamis, that saved western civilization…

… which is apparently what this new flick does!  Though with lots of Millerian sneering cartoon-villains, when the real thing was dramatic enough.  Ah well.

(2) I’ll go see it.  What the heck?  In hopes that, maybe, Mr. Snyder has decided to love the civilization that’s been good to him, ignoring the incredible hatred of democracy and enlightenment that pervades nearly all of Frank Miller’s works.

 == The Blackjack Generation? ==

Next-America-boomersTuesday evening on The Daily Show, author Paul Taylor discussed the millennial generation and his book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.  In discussion with Jon Stewart, Prof. Taylor said that the clade following the millennials… encompassing those born after 2000… does not yet have a name.  Um, well… may I weigh in?

Way back in 1989, in my novel EARTH, I portrayed folks in the 2030s referring to this generation as “blackjacks”… because they were the first ones born in Century Twenty-One.

Blackjack? Twenty-one? Get it?  Cool, eh?  Oh… never mind…

== News flash:  The Justice Department is now conducting two inquiries: 1) looking into whether the CIA illegally snooped on congressional investigators and 2) another looking into whether those same congressional investigators broke the law by sneaking documents out of CIA HQ to protect them from erasure. The accusations include lying to Congress and to the Justice Department, and spying on congressional investigators to hide what the CIA was doing.

== Continuing panic over terror?  ==

So many misconceptions!  During the Obama Administration, the U.S. has suffered its fewest number of terror-related attacks per year of any substance, going back to the 1960s, yet somehow we manage to stay stoked in panic.  In fact, according to a briefing I got last week at the Pentagon, the curves are extremely clear.  International terrorism attacks peaked across the Reagan and Bush administrations at roughly 400 to 500 incidents per year. They plummeted starting around 1992 through a nadir in 2001, the very year of the 9/11 attacks. (Coincidentally, this steep decline encompassed the Clinton years, though the aging out of European radicals probably also played a role.) There was a bit of a rise under GW Bush, though not to pre-Clinton levels.  The decline continued under Obama…

….though the US figure does not apply to the whole world.  The missing jet from Malaysia is deeply worrisome, for example. There are Chechen-related events in Russia and so on.  This is not a call for complacency! Still, it is yet one more reason to choose to shake off our dismal funk and the pessimism foisted on us by cable news.  We still have time to start the “real 21st Century” in a mood of rising confidence.

Wish I could share the chart.  It’s amazing.

== Some folks get-it ==

SURVEILLANCE-COVEILLANCE A WIRED article by Kevin Kelly promotes sousveillance and reciprocal accountability by translating/combining them into the word “coveillance”… a term that may confuse the chemists out there… but that captures the heart of by two-decade argument — that we can negotiate in our own best interests if we can see.

 “A transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going.”

And… “Amplified coveillance will shift society to become even more social; more importantly it will change how we define ourselves as humans.”  Interesting!

(Ah, but Kevin… do cite others along the way.)

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What Should We Be Worried About?

== Worst Case Scenarios? ==

All the freaky weather, with the Polar Vortex swinging far south of its normal arctic home and aurorae over London, reminds one of James Lovelock’s 2007 book, The Revenge of Gaia, which predicted that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater.  Note that in EARTH I portrayed Bangladesh and Florida and Houston getting drowned by that date.  Though I do not go as far as James Lovelock did, back then…

vanishing-face-of-gaia1…and Lovelock himself appears to now be slightly less pessimistic.  I think there’s still time to make a real difference and achieve a “soft Landing” so that there will be more good news than bad…

… but there are potential killer game changers.  For example if methane hydrates under cool thermal layers in northern seas start to “blurp” out, the runaway effects of all that methane (a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2) will be catastrophic.  Similarly methane from melting tundra… or the potentially horrible hydrogen sulfide scenario that paleontologist Peter Ward described in his “Green Sky” scenario

Are we on the verge of an “H2S Extinction Event?” It is one of two ways that the gradual nature of human generated climate change might suddenly do a non-linear takeoff. (The other would be if deep ocean hydrates of methane suddenly reached a critical point and were to “blurp” – along with methane released from thawing tundra, sending the greenhouse skyrocketing.)


 Peter Ward (Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What they Can Tell us about our Future) and other researchers point to several past extinction events on Earth that seem to have been driven by sudden pollution of the atmosphere by hydrogen sulfide gas. This poison is generated in deep ocean anoxic (oxygen depleted) layers that stop getting mixing currents from above, by anaerobic archaeobacteria. The best example of this currently happening is the Black Sea, right next to where the Sochi Olympics just finished.  There, just a few hundred meters below the calm su

rface, and kept down by a delicate thermocline layer, sits “the greatest repository of poison in the world, by far.” Someday, it will come out.

Three things need to happen, in order for a world disaster (a Green Sky) of unprecedented proportions to occur and two are already underway.

OCEAN-ACIDITY1. A rapid rise in ocean acidity… check. This is the product of human-spewed CO2 that the denialists at Fox strenuously avoid mentioning.  Because there is no response possible. Because the oceans are turning acid at unprecedented rates. No Hannity-obfuscation can hide it… so they never ever ever mention it. And when the topic comes up? They point offscreen and yell… squirrel!

2. Lots of nutrients.  Agricultural and other runoffs from civilization aren’t feeding the healthy fishery food chains, but massive algae blooms, jellyfish and (when it all sinks) blooms of bottom layer archaeobacteria.

3. Failure of the healthy mixing currents that prevent thermoclines from getting too strong, in the great oceans.  From Arctic to Antarctic, currents mix layers and bring oxygen to the deeps. But scientists have long warned of ways that warming might shut down the North Atlantic conveyor… and if that third ingredient happens, we could be in FAR worse trouble than in that silly film THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.

What-should-we-be-worried-brockman Paul Werbos sums it up: “The previous head of ARPAE strongly recommended a book, The Alchemy of Air, to give us an uplifting story about science and innovation.. . which also tells us about how different our modern world is from the world of a thousand years ago. It looks to me as if the trigger is bigger than ever before in earth history, and as if the oxygenating currents are what save us. When they go….”

Or if the mysterious way the oceans have been uptaking extra CO2 suddenly stops… which of course it must, some day.  Or if ocean acidification (which you’ll notice Fox never mentions, because it is absolute fact) reaches a tipping point…

…or if we simply remain obstinately stupid and complacent. And if the smart folks in civilization continue to let themselves be bullied by the dumbest, who rant hypnotic drivel poured out by cable propaganda machines, owned by lords who cannot spell and/or imagine the word “tumbrels” — the vehicle that will replace their limos, if the bad stuff ever really comes down.  Alas, they fail that IQ test, proving no smarter than the mob they think that they control.


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Rising Economic Inequality…Does it Matter?

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows rising levels of income inequality in all fifty states. From 1979 to 2011, the top 1% saw their income rise 128.9%, while the bottom 99% saw their income increase by a mere 2.3%. How does your state compare? Try the interactive feature from the Economic Policy Institute.

My friend and fellow futurist/scifi fan John Mauldin weighs in on the rising use of the word “inequality.” He starts with what former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers was getting at in last week’s Financial Times op-ed:

Rising-economic-inequality“The share of income going to the top 1 percent of earners has increased sharply. A rising share of output is going to profits. Real wages are stagnant. Family incomes have not risen as fast as productivity. The cumulative effect of all these developments is that the US may well be on the way to becoming a Downton Abbey economy.”

Mauldin comments: “That thinking assumes that if income inequality is rising, the top 1% is getting richer at the expense of the working class, because it assumes production still heavily exploits the relatively unskilled labor that most Americans can provide through hard work. It does not discriminate between value-added labor and value-added information and innovation.  As I argued three weeks ago, the gains from the Information Age have been unevenly distributed throughout the economy. This is a structural problem in the sense that the productivity gains from the first two Industrial Revolutions are essentially thoroughly distributed through the economy. All workers saw their incomes increase along with increasing productivity for the 200 years of the Industrial Revolutions. Yes, entrepreneurs, innovators, and knowledge workers saw their incomes rise faster, but a rising tide of productivity lifted all boats.

MauldinEconomics“While populist politicians, mainstream economists, and envious market watchers would like to brand billionaire inventors like Tesla CEO and PayPal Founder Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, or eBay cofounder Pierre Omidyar as modern-day robber barons, they haven’t really robbed anyone. The emerging class of billionaires is creating value that did not exist before they arrived, and they’re doing it with relatively small teams of highly skilled knowledge workers. And they deserve every penny they earn.

“On the flip side, a growing majority of our labor force is responsible for a much smaller percentage of economic output. Their wages are stagnant because more people are competing for a shrinking number of jobs.”

He admits: “Eighty-five people have as much money as do the poorest 3.5 billion. The top 1% have almost half the liquid wealth that has been accumulated in the world. There are 1,426 known billionaires, and gods know how many additional kleptocrats and people who have managed to maintain some semblance of privacy.”

== Alas, it does not wash ==

Okay, here’s my middle of the road response. I do not mind sharing the world with billionaires.  I know several on a first name basis — and that plus $4 can get me a small latte. As long as they got their wealth on an even playing field, by organizing teams of engineers to deliver wonderful goods and services, “good on them.”  All of that applies to the tech moguls John gives as examples. Only…

does-inequality-matter… only John cherry-picked the very very best examples of self-made billionaires who got it all the way I just described.  Notice that he never mentioned the far greater numbers of New Oligarchs who leveraged inherited positions of dominance in an economic sector to squelch fair competition, or  Wall Street cheaters including those in the cartel-cabal of “seated members” of equities exchanges, or those who pay little or no royalties on resources extracted (with subsidies) from public lands, or those who slow down the economy by acting as Adam Smith described lords doing throughout history… passive “rent-seeking.” Which utterly demolishes the lie called “supply side ‘economics’.”

Oh, there’s one more thing about the list of examples of good billionaires that John supplied…. they are nearly all Democrats, who have joined Warren Buffett saying “raise my taxes” so that a society that’s mostly flat and open can keep supplying the brilliant engineers who made… them… rich.

There is an IQ test for the rising aristocracy.  Can you spell the word “tumbrels” and do you really want to keep reflexively doing what dullard lords did in every other society before ours, pushing for oligarchy — rationalizing reasons to ignore how much more power angry mobs will have in the coming era, than they did in 1789 Paris?

See my earlier postings: Does Inequality Matter? and Things Only a Zillionaire Could Do to Save America.

== Help from the good/smart zillionaires == 

ZILLIONAIREOh, the here are smart moguls out there, who can spell and even see where the world is heading, and act in its (and their own) best interest!  I’ve long said that we, the people, have an ace up our sleeve, in this generation’s struggle to prevent an oligarchic putsch.  That ace is the loyalty — to our Enlightenment — of many “good billionaires.” 

Those who got rich fairly, via great new goods and services developed by appreciated engineers and artists, and who feel grateful to an open and egalitarian and generally-flat society that is socially mobile and welcoming to fresh competition. Every generation — especially of Americans — has had to refresh markets and such, by retaining the competitive creativity of capitalism and the allure of wealth from innovative goods and services — while finding clever ways to prevent a return to feudalism, while leveling the playing field just enough for the next wave of smart new competitors.  The balancing act recommended by Adam Smith.

Giving-pledgeSee list of billionaires who have committed to the Giving Pledge — to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy, including Paul Allen, Bill and Melinda Gates, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Elon Musk, Nicola Berggruen, Mark Zuckerberg…

Now see this article about how one billionaire retired investor is forging plans to spend as much as $100 million during the 2014 election, seeking to pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures. The donor, Tom Steyer, a Democrat who founded one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, burst onto the national political scene during last year’s elections, when he spent $11 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia.

All right, my admiration seems partisan.  Seemss. But I don’t like him because he’s a democrat.  I like him because he wants to divert destiny from calamity. Because he can see what’s in his own self-interest and his kids… and therefore ours. And the only place Rupert Murdoch has ever steered us has been over cliffs.

==And Finally==

PEACE-WELFARE-STATEThere are glimmers of signs that some voices on the right want to move away from the murdochian madness.  I have cited the folks at The American Conservative.  Now comes a glimmer of cogency that was published from the belly of the monster itself — the American Enterprise Institute, suggesting that conservatism “declare peace on the social safety net.”  I am boggled as much by the venue as by the brash reasonableness of the offer to negotiate and to stop waging war upon the poor..  Could it be that more of the smartest folks on that fringe are starting to realize what Tea Party Populism might become, if the lower middle class starts waking up and turning off Fox?

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The War on Science – Fighting Back!

Seth MacFarlane, the multitasking comedian and creator of “Family Guy,” and other raunchy fare, happens also to be the driving force behind the new version of Carl Sagan’s classic science show “COSMOS,” which will appear Sunday on Fox and simultaneously on other networks, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know a number of the writers and producers who have striven to create something stunning, vivid and updated for the 21st Century.

Cosmos_Carousel-carousel-360x282MacFarlane admits — in this fascinating article — that he was partly motivated by a strong will to fight back against a growing darkness that seems to be spreading across much of America, in particular, an outright war on science of intellect, pushed hard by cynical manipulators for their own short sighted political agendas and greed.

MacFarlane riffed about the irony, that COSMOS will appear on Fox Entertainment. “They are hurting and helping at the same time,” Mr. MacFarlane said of Fox, his tongue somewhat in cheek. “In that sense, I suppose it’s incumbent upon Fox to do something like this, to make up for all the damage it’s done with its ‘news’ network.”

== Ironic twists in this struggle ==

Similarly contradictory…  The late Harold Ramis was brilliant at leveraging upon the American reflex — tweaking pompous authority figures.  In ANIMAL HOUSE, CADDYSHACK and GHOSTBUSTERS, Ramis partnered in bringing us laughs amid celebrations of pure fun. Yes, Ghostbusters had a different view of science — rambunctious and positive — than the anti-intellectualism of the other two. I consider Gohostbusters to be the most original piece of cinema I ever saw, expressing proud assertiveness… even aggression… against all the mystical things that 6000 years of mythology proclaim we’re supposed to hold in awe.

Still… this iconoclastic essay — published churlishly within a week of Ramis’s passing — does offer an interesting demurral… that the supposed Suspicion of Authority (SoA) message in Ramis’s films was not aimed as much against Big Money as against OLD money. Against government and labor and traditional morals that might stand in the way of a new class of entrepreneurial wealth-building — the invincible Masters of the Universe typified by Wall Street, who resent any restraints, even moral or ethical ones, on the untrameled right to trample your way to the top.

I’m not sure I swallow this argument. But it does merit a read and a pondering.

== The struggle against a new dark age ==

I clearly and often make clear that I believe American anti-science romanticism is not restricted to just one end of the hoary left-right “spectrum.” There are nostalgic-cynical grouches at both wings, doing fantastic harm to a civilization that accomplished wonders through our earlier tradition of contingency, argument, experimentation and pragmatic problem solving.  And curiosity. Yes, there are nostalgist monsters at both fanatical poles.

BWar-scienceut let’s be clear, the far-left is not our current worst problem.  The fever on the entire-right is what has plunged us into dire danger for our entire Great Experiment.  And here is one more piece of evidence:

“Less than five years ago, 54 percent of Republicans and nearly two-thirds of Democrats said the human species evolved over time. Today, however, the share of Republicans adhering to modern theories of human evolution has dropped significantly – to 43 percent.”  That’s almost 60% of GOP members who deny evolution on a planet that is four billion years old, in a cosmos of trillions of suns.

No wonder American scientists (and every other knowledge clade; name one exception) have been fleeing the GOP. Thirty years ago, 40% of U.S. scientists were republican.  It is now down around 6% and plummeting.   This is not about capitalism, or enterprise, or freedom or statism or socialism… it is about crazy.

== Lest we forget the recent mania that said it all ==

Do NOT let anyone forget, this election cycle, about the government shutdown. Old Abe may have said it best, in a fascinating and chilling parallel.  In February 1860, while initially running for President, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at New York’s Cooper Union. Read excerpts. Though bear in mind: today’s Republican Party is largely based (regionally and thematically) in regions that were in those days Democratic, and vice versa.

“Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. [...] Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action?”

“But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!” [...]

“A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. ” 

GettysburgAddressLincolnGovernmentNow combine this with Lincoln’s later Gettysburg Address, calling on Americans to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”

Roll it over the tongue, and ponder how bitter it must taste to the New Confederates, who recite the Fox Nostrum that “government” is evil in principle, and under all conditions. (Despite having supported it blindly when the blithering incompetents in charge were from their side.)  Men (mostly) who ignore the declining deficit, or the fact that U.S. federal tax rates are at their lowest levels in 70 years. Or the lesson of 60 centuries that most oppression came not from civil servants but owner-oligarchs.  Just as a million poor whites marched foolishly (albeit bravely!) to fight and die for their feudal overlords in 1861, so do millions obey Rupert Murdoch’s mantras, despising any class or cadre (e.g. scientists, teachers, civil servants and so on) who might possibly stand in the way of a new feudal order.

See my article: 150 Years after Lincoln at Gettysburg…Can we maintain our union? Our Resolve?

Since the fall of the outrageously evil Soviet Empire, I have seen no greater threat to the republic that I love, and the renaissance it helped engender.

== And about psychology… look in a mirror after reading this! (I will.) ==

Television-politicsHow Television Re-Inforces Our Politics: In October 2012, The New York Times published the results of a TiVo-based study, which found that while registered Republicans tend to watch golf, registered Democrats have a penchant for cartoons, as in Family Guy and American Dad. Republicans also like NASCAR and reality TV competition shows such as The Biggest Loser, Survivor, American Idol, and The Amazing Race. Democrats prefer to watch the sitcoms 30 Rock and Community, AMC dramas The Killing and Mad Men, and late-night funny guys Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

In general, the article suggested, TV-viewing trends between Republicans and Democrats were “every bit as polarized as the political culture.” Not one network show favorite appeared on both sides of the divide.

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