Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bet on it! The "Name an Exception" challenge and other tactics for your crazy uncle

== Betting on the Future ==

I'm not much of a gambling man. But in this posting I'll argue that we need to become a wagering nation. Mired in an era when fact-users are public enemies and outraged subjectivities rule, our best way out may be to get a little macho and demand "Let's put money on that!"


No, don't feed me obsolete clich├ęs. Our current political and psychic divides aren't classic "left-vs-right." Not when all metrics of market enterprise do better across the span of Democratic administrations. Not when very few leaders of innovative, product and service oriented companies are Republicans.

No, our cultural divide is whether you admire or despise the fact-centered professions that are so important to civilized life, yet relentlessly hated-on by certain media. From scientists, teachers and journalists to doctors, civil servants, law professionals, the FBI.... This explains why fundamentalist preachers adore Donald Trump, the most opposite-to-Jesus figure you can imagine.  Because he galls and infuriates the same people they despise.

Put aside distractions. Sure, racism is real and deadly! So are sexism, eco-spoilage and oligarchic ripoffs. Yet none of them compare in importance with the war on fact, because it means we can't use true evidence to refute horrid lies. Not when any fact-checking service is swiftly denounced as partisan. 


There are ways to defeat idiocracy-lobotomization.

First, consider: your raving uncle will still admit the primacy of fact when it's about a bet. Folks in the Red Base take sporting wagers seriously, especially with money on the table!

Oh, but you must put your challenge carefully. When Mitt Romney, in 2012, challenged Rick Perry to bet $10,000 on a fact-check, it looked like a rich man's bullying tactic. Much better might have been "one percent of my income will go to your charity, if I lose, and one percent of yours will go to a charity of my choosing, if I'm right." 


Figuring how to parse such challenges should be explored by some liberal-moderate think tank or NGO, finding what works even on conservative focus groups, where they admit: "My guy looks like a coward if he refuses."


== The Core Challenge ==

In the most general sense, we need to make one matter paramount, since all others will then fall out: 

"Are you willing to help set up a fact-checking service that conservatives would accept as nonpartisan? 

No other challenge makes them squirm and seek exits from the room, as surely as that one.  Block the exits.

"Is there any combination of conservative sages you'd put forward, to help us out of the quagmire of lies? Sages that your opponents would (perhaps grudgingly) admit are genuine grownups? 

"Sandra Day O'Conner? George Schultz? James Baker? Elizabeth Dole? Dick Thornburgh? Arnold Schwarznegger? The CEOs of GE or GM? How about David Petreus and some other retired generals and admirals? 

"And might YOU accept Warren Buffet or Bill Gates on the other side? Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos? Moderate liberals who absolutely want capitalism to work?

"If such a commission of grownup sages oversaw a new, fact-checking service (or two or five competing ones, so we aren't setting up a Ministry of Truth), would you then agree to notice when they say "the evidence says that's not true"?

Okay, then here's where the challenge bites, hard.

"And if you cannot name such conservative sages who you'd trust... if you refuse to offer ANY suggestions how our nation and civilization can check on facts... what does that say about you and your movement?"

Before you object: "they'll just shrug this off!" consider. We are in a ground game of yards and downs. Cornering them in this way could provide the last straw for a million residually sane Republicans to wake up and see what's happened to hijacked American Conservatism.  A million here, a million there... and Sane America will defeat the Confederacy, yet again.

Let's be plain: challenging today's right over the matter of fact-checking services is not peripheral to our political struggles.  It is central. It is the only central thing. Win this, and the ciivil war is over. Lose or ignore this -- and you prove the dismal stupidity of our own side.

== Specifics. Cornering them hard: the Name an Exception Challenge! ==

Try to grasp the Fox tactic.  When we trot forth a myriad facts, the alt-right cult deflects with anecdotes and assertions. Their audience cannot tell the difference between a particular anecdote and a generality. (Example: because a few Berkeley protesters behave stupidly, it means "all liberals are like that.")

So I’ve got a better approach. Find something so pervasive and general that it cannot be answered, even with a single anecdote! Defy them to NAME AN EXCEPTION!

Ponder this: If I make a specific accusation, then the burden of proof is on me. But when I challenge you to disprove a general accusation, well, that should be easy for you to do, by finding one exception

If I claim the Harlem Globetrotters always beat the Washington Generals, you can refute with the 1971 upset in Tennessee. In which case I must retreat from always to most of the time. 

But if I claim the 1972 Miami Dolphins won all their games in regular season play, then you must find an exception... even one... or admit that they were the best team, that year. More generally, your failure to find even one exception gives me the upper hand.  It proves the generality (at least contingently) by default.


No, for the following name-one-exception challenges, the burden of proof is on conservatives to show how these six general accusations have any exceptions. Any at all! Even one will do -- at least to stymie the always generalization. Just one.


One exception should be easy! And if you fail, then they are true. 

And if they are true, then your movement is not a political party, it is a dangerously insane and incompetent cult.

1-  Name one profession of high knowledge and skill that’s not under attack by Fox/Trump & cohorts? Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science. 

Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 3% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced. 

See Mistrust of Science in The New Yorker.

And now?  Add to that list the U.S. military and intelligence officer corps and the FBI! All are now "deep state" enemies of the right. Oh, yes, this is not your daddy's conservatism, when your screeches of hate are directed at every fact-profession... and every fact-checking service is automatically "politically biased" because they keep finding your side "pants on fire" crazy. 

(As it happens, I know two professions of folks who know  a lot and aren't being warred upon. But I won't tell you. And even if alt-righters cite them, it won't help their cause a bit.)

2- Name a major metric of U.S. national health that did better across the spans of either Bush administration than across the spans of the Clinton and Obama admins.  

You cannot. Nearly all such metrics declined - many plummeting - across both Bush regimes.  Nearly all rose, many of them by a lot, across both DP terms. The record of almost perfect mal-governance would make any sane or scientific-minded person flee the GOP screaming and never trust them again.

Clinton & Obama scored better in every category, including every sane conservative desire, like rate of change of deficits and military readiness. Quibbling-wriggling-squirming will not change that.  And Clinton-Obama would have done even better were they not sabotaged 3/4 of the time by the laziest and nastiest Congresses in U.S. history.

3- Name one top GOP leader between Reagan and Ryan who was even mentioned at the 2016 Republican Convention. 

Well, except for Newt. Otherwise, all were brushed under the rug, including both Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Dennis (friend to boys) Hastert, Tom (convicted felon) DeLay, Boehner....  In fact, name a top republican between EISENHOWER and Ryan who was even mentioned by the party at the RNC, other than Reagan and Newt! This shows how writhing ashamed Republicans are, of their record at governance.  How desperate they are, to double down on the insanity with new heroes, shouting "squirrel!" and pointing offstage at ever-greater hallucinations, rather than face the fact that their side governs very, very badly.

Next comes a simple -- though tragically hilarious one.

4- Name one of the dark fantasies about Obama, from black UN helicopters to taking away all our guns, that happened or was even tepidly tried. 

(If you claim there were such attempted tyrannies, be prepared to put money on it. Real money, with conspiracy theories bearing burden-of-proof. Cash. Held and judged by reuptable grownups.)

5- Name one time when Supply Side (Voodoo) "Economics" made a successful major prediction?  

One time? Ever? One time when slashing taxes on the rich led to reduced deficits and to vastly stimulated economic activity, or even much investment in "supply" capital? Once. One time when this cult religion unambiguously delivered? Ever? At all?

(Every single time we turned away from the Greatest Generation's Rooseveltean social contract with gusher gifts to the rich, the lucre was not invested in productive capacity or R&D. The results (as predicted by Adam Smith) were slower growth, rising deficits, skyrocketing wealth disparities and declining research/ROI horizons and productivity.)

6- Name one other time in American — or human — history, when an administration spanning 8 years had zero scandals or indictments concerning malfeasance in the performance of official duties.  It has happened twice in American — or human — history. The administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  Name a GOP example.

I can name one more, though it was a 4-year. Jimmy Carter's tenure. On the other side? They can’t. In fact, scandals, indictments, convictions and pardons were rife across the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush administrations... and now...?

Watch. Those who do try to answer these challenges will offer quibbles, minutia, or else squawl "squirrel!” and point offstage at some assertion or distraction, concocting scenarios and excuses to explain why they cannot answer any of these… or dozens of other… challenges. And remember, even if an exception is found, all that means is that the generality shifts from always to almost always.   (It takes a lot of counter examples -- and statistics -- to shift from almost always to merely sometimes.)

Others are invited to offer more "name an exception" challenges below, under Comments.

Only dig it. If any one of these broad generalities stand, unanswered, just that one -- even all by itself -- will mean their side cannot be trusted with a burnt match. 


= Why should such wagers be necessary, in arguments between adults and fellow citizens? =


George Lakoff goes into the “Strong Father” explanation for confederatism — the version of American conservatism that has utterly replaced and expunged all others, from libertarian to entrepreneurial to scientific. Lakoff - who predicted that Hillary Clinton’s campaign would fail - explains how deep, inner assumption sets compel Red Americans toward thought patterns that are fundamentally different than their Blue America neighbors.

You must read and understand Lakoff’s explanation! Though there is more that he leaves out. For example take the one reflex that all Americans share — Suspicion of Authority (SoA) — which is pushed in every Hollywood message myth we imbibed, when young.  In some films, the dire authority figure is a government agency, or else a corporation, or an aristocrat… or aliens or a badgering mother-in-law. If we were calm and reasonable, we’d admit that oppression could come from any and all directions…

…and that very reasonableness — willingness to negotiate and see other points of view — has been the real target of right wing propaganda. Fox and its shock-radio pals have utilized, exploited and twisted SoA, so that confederates (a more accurate term than “Red Americans” or “conservatives) aim outrage and ire at every single fact-using profession, from science and journalism to civil servants and… now… the FBI, Intelligence Agencies and the United States Military Officer Corps. 

Why? Why would the number one aim of Fox etc be to get 40% of voters to hate smart people, who know stuff?

By itself, Lakoff’s diagnosis cannot explain all this, since these expert castes could easily be viewed as “strong parents” — authoritative and easily classified as superior. When injured, a confederate will run to a medical doctor. When abused by some local injustice, he will call an attorney or a newspaper. The propaganda that has whipped these folks into hating all smartypants types had to be pervasive and relentless, across a whole generation…

… and the ground had to be very well prepared, in order to start attacking the last exempt groups.  But that time has come. Military officers and intel agencies and the FBI are now all part of a “deep state” conspiracy, along with every civil servant. Yes, in other words, all of the expert castes who might question or resist full takeover by an oligarchic putsch.  A return to feudalism that was always the confederate goal, in every past phase of the American Civil War.

Again, a terrific article about “weaponized propaganda” can be found at the Scout site. 


We need to solve this thing, before it kills us. And it's time to get macho in their faces. Not with "antifa" screeches and hysteria and violence, but with a simple challenge they cannot squirm away from.

"Come on Big Mouth. Put real money on it."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

In honor of Houston... of Texas... and our future... a chapter from EARTH.

While offering up hopes and prayers for our fellow citizens in Texas, here let me give you all an Excerpt from my novel, EARTH (1990), presenting a glimpse of Texan resilience in the near future:
------
They were still pumping out Houston from last week's hurricane when she got into town. Teresa found it stunning how the city was transformed by the calamity. Avenues of inundated shops rippled mysteriously just below floodline, their engulfed wares glimmering like sunken treasure.
The towering glass office blocks were startling vistas of blue and white and aquamarine, reflecting the summer sky above and bright-flecked waters below.
Limp in the humidity, rows of canted trees marked the drowned borderlines of street and sidewalk. Their stained trunks testified to even higher inundations, in the past. Under fluffy clouds pushed by a torpid breeze, Houston struck Teresa like some hyper-modernist's depiction of Venice, before that lamented city's final submergence. A wonderful assortment of boats, canoes, kayaks and even gondolas negotiated side streets, while makeshift water taxis plowed the boulevards, ferrying commuters from their residential arcologies to the shimmering office towers. With typical Texan obstinacy, nearly half the population had refused evacuation this time. In fact, Teresa reckoned some actually reveled living among the craggy cliffs of this manmade archipelago.
From the upper deck of the bus she saw the sun escape a cloud, setting the surrounding glazed monoliths ablaze. Most of the other passengers instantly and unconsciously turned away, adjusting broad-brimmed hats and polarized glasses to hide from the harsh rays. The only exceptions she saw were a trio of Ra-boys, in sleeveless mesh shirts and gaudy earrings, who faced the bright heat with relish, soaking in it worshipfully.
Teresa took a middle path when the sun emerged. She didn't react at all. It was, after all, only a stable class G star, well-behaved and a safe distance removed. Certainly, it was less dangerous down here than up in orbit.
Oh, she took all the proper precautions -- she wore a hat and mild yellow glasses. But thereafter she simply dismissed the threat from her mind. Any real danger of skin cancer was minor if you stayed alert and caught it early. Certainly the odds compared favorably with those of dying in a heli-zep accident.
That wasn't why she'd avoided taking a heli today, skipping that direct route from Clear Lake, where the NASA dikes had withstood Hurricane Abdul's fury. Teresa used a roundabout route today to make sure she wasn't being followed. It also provided an opportunity to collect her thoughts before stepping from frying pan to fire.
Anyway, how many more chances would she have to experience this wonder of American conceit, this spectacle that was Houston Defiant? Either the city moguls would eventually succeed in their grand, expensive plan -- to secure the dikes, divert the water table, and stabilize everything on massive pylons -- or the entire metropolis would soon join Galveston under the Gulf of Mexico, along with large patches of Louisiana and poor Florida. Either way, this scene would be one to tell her grandchildren about.
-- assuming grandchildren, of course.
The water-bus passed a perseverant shopkeeper peddling his soaked fashions from pontoons under a sign that read, “PRE-SHRUNK, GUARANTEED SALT RESISTANT". Nearby, a cafe owner had set up tables, chairs and umbrellas atop the roof of one of their bus's stranded, wheeled cousins, and was doing a brisk business. Their driver delicately maneuvered around this enterprise, and the cluster of parked kayaks and dinghies surrounding it, then negotiated one of the shallow reefs of abandoned bicycles before regaining momentum on Lyndon Johnson Avenue.
“They ought to keep it this way," Teresa commented softly, to no one in particular. “It's charming."
“Amen to that, sister."
With a momentary jerk of surprise, Teresa glanced toward the Ra-boys and saw what she had not noticed before, that one of them wore a quasi-legal Big-Ear amplifier. He returned her evaluation speculatively, touching the rims of his sunglasses, making them briefly go transparent so she could catch his leer.
“Water makes the old town sexy," he said, sauntering closer. “Don'tcha think? I love the way the sunlight bounces off of everything."
Teresa decided not to point out the minor irregularity, that he wore no sign advertising his eavesdropping device. Only in her innermost thoughts... and her lumpy left pocket... did she have anything to hide.
“You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She answered, giving him a measured look he could take as neither insult nor invitation. It didn't work. He sauntered forward, planted one foot on the seat next to her, leaned forward, and rubbed the close-cropped fuzz covering his cranium.
“Water serves the sun, don't ya know? We're supposed to let it come on come on come. It's just one of His ways o' lovin', see? Coverin' Earth like a strong man covers a woman, gently, irresistibly... wetly."
Fresh patches of pink skin showed where over-the-counter creams had recently cleared away precancerous areas. In fact, Ra-boys weren't many more times as likely to develop the really deep, untreatable melanoma tumors than other people. But their blotchy complexions heightened the image they desired -- of dangerous fellows without respect for life. Young studs with nothing to lose.
Teresa felt the other passengers tense. Several made a point of turning toward the young toughs, aiming their True-Vus at them like vigilant, crime-fighting heroes of an earlier era. To these the boys offered desultory, almost obligatory gestures of self-expression. Most of the riders just turned away, withdrawing behind shadow and opaque lenses.
Teresa thought both reactions a bit sad. I hear it's even worse in some cities up north. They're nothing but teenagers, for heaven's sake. Why can't people just relax?
She herself found the Ra-boys less frightening than pathetic. She'd heard of the fad, of course, and seen young men dressed this way at a few parties Jason took her to before his last mission. But this was her first encounter with sun-worshippers in daylight, which separated nighttime poseurs from the real thing.
“Nice metaphors," she commented. “Are you sure you didn't go to school?"
Already flushed from the heat, the bare-shouldered youth actually darkened several shades as his two friends laughed aloud. Teresa had no wish to make him angry. Dismembering a citizen -- even in self defense -- wouldn't help her now-precarious position with the agency. Placatingly, she held up one hand.
“Let's go over them, shall we? Now you seem to be implying the rise in sea level was caused by your sun deity. But everyone knows the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting because of the Greenhouse Effect --"
“Yeah, yeah," the Ra-boy interrupted. “But the greenhouse gases keep in heat that originates with the sun."
“Those gases were man-made, were they not?"
He smiled smugly. “Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides from cars and TwenCen factories, sure. But where'd it all come from originally? Oil! Gas! Coal! All buried and hoarded by Her Nibs long ago, cached away under her skin like blubber. But all the energy in the oil an' coal -- the reason our grempers dug and drilled into Old Gaia in the first place -- that came from the sun!"
He bent closer. “Now though, we're no longer enslaved to Her precious hoard of stolen fossil fat-fuel. It's all gone up in smoke, wonderful smoke. Bye bye.” He aimed a kiss at the clouds. “And there's nowhere else to turn anymore but to the source itself!"
Ra-worshippers were backers of solar energy, while the more numerous Gaians pushed wind power and conservation instead. As a spacer, Teresa ironically found her sympathies coinciding with the group whose appearance and style were the more repulsive. Probably all she had to do was let these fellows know she was an astronaut, and all threat and bluster would evaporate. Honestly though, she liked them better this way -- loud, boisterous, reeking of testosterone and overcompensation -- than she would as fawning admirers.
“This city ain't gonna last long anyway," the Ra-Boy continued, waving at the great towers, up to their steel ankles in Gulf waters. “They can build their levees, drive piles, try to patch the holes. But sooner or later, it's all goin' the way of Miami.”
“Fecund jungle's gonna spread --” one of the others crooned through a gauzy, full-backup mouth-synthesizer. Presumably it was a line from a popular song, though she didn't recognize it.
The growling motors changed pitch as it approached another stop. Meanwhile, the leader leaned even closer to Teresa. “Yessiree, blistery! The Old Lady's gonna brim with life again. There'll be lions roaming Saskatchewan. Flamingoes flocking Greenland! And all 'cause of Ra's rough lovin'."
Poor fellow, Teresa thought. She saw through his pose of macho heliolatry. Probably he was a pussycat, and the only danger he presented came from his desperate anxiety not to let that show.
The Ra-boy frowned as he seemed to detect something in her smile. Trying harder to set her aback, he bared his teeth in a raffish grin. “Rough, wet loving. It's what women like. No less Big Mama Gaia. No?"
Across the aisle, a woman wearing an Orb of the Mother pendant glared sourly at the Ra-boy. He noticed, turned, and lolled his tongue at her, causing her fashionably fair skin to flush. Not wearing True Vus, she quickly looked away.
He stood up, turning to sweep in the other passengers. “Ra melts the glaciers! He woos her with his heat. He melts her frigid infundibulum with warm waters. He ..."
The Ra-boy stammered to a halt. Blinking, he swept aside his dark glasses and looked left and right, seeking Teresa.
He spotted her at last, standing on the jerry-rigged third-floor landing of the Gibraltar Building. As the waterbus pulled away again, raising salty spumes in its wake, she blew a kiss toward the sun worshipper and his comrades. They were still staring back at her, with their masked eyes and patchy pink skins, as the boat driver accelerated to catch a yellow at First Street, barely making it across before the light changed.
“So long, harmless," she said after the dwindling Ra-boy. Then she nodded to the doorman as he grinned and ushered her inside.
--------
That's from chapter 22 of EARTH (1990). See the wiki fans run about my predictions from EARTH! Of course I needn't point out other themes, like citizen smart mobs equipped with cameras who had pretty much ended crime a decade earlier, resulting in mass layoffs of police. Or Climate Change, duh? Well it wasn't duh in 1987. (See also a reading discussion guide to the novel.)
Oh, speaking of Texas and Houston, here's prescient and extremely relevant wisdom from the city's namesake and a mighty Texan-American. Good luck Texas! The Union stands with you. And now back to our regular rhythm....

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cheating, gerrymandering and other threats

I penned an important article on gerrymandering, offering new insights, and I'm waiting to hear from various journals and zines.  Alas, in this hyper-political era, editors choose according to their polemical tastes and pals... so you can expect it will likely be posted here, soon.  Meanwhile...

Ed Burmila, in Rolling Stone, makes a cogent point that we should pay less attention to Donald Trump and more to what the confederacy is doing to our fellow citizens, down at the state level, where the GOP’s lock on more than 30 out of fifty statehouses and 65 out of 98 state legislature chambers, has set then to work doing no less than re-establishing feudalism:

“Donald Trump's presidency has been a disaster, but he has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations in one key way: getting attention – attention that fills the void where the rest of us have a soul…. (But fighting back) begins with winning back the state legislatures that draw electoral maps and make the rules that shape elections.”

In other words, this is no time for timid appetites. The Bernie Bros etc. want us to concentrate on shifting 25 swing Congressional seats, but that number should be 125, even 225! Moreover, even that will be a hollow victory without a thousand State Assembly wins.  This coalesces three themes that I’ve pushed for some time.

1: Don’t impeach! Not yet. Our civil servants are now fully alerted to the insanity and they should be able to protect us, for the time being. For now, Trump is the Republicans’ nightmare. Impeach, and the  confederates will just rally behind a President Pence and march with savage discipline. Leaks will end, as those manics plot - sincerely - to bring on the end of the world.

Last week I offered up insight into the 25th Amendment, and how it might offer even worried Republicans a way to safeguard the Republic, without even removing an unstable president from office.

2: Gerrymandering and other electoral cheats are central. They have metastacized till even Samuel Alito and John Roberts cannot ignore them, anymore. (Or else they are simply not Americans.) But we need clever and strong backup plans. More on that, soon.

3: Retaking many of those states will not be done by running Santa Monica liberals in deep red districts.  Go ahead and run liberals and Bernites etc in swing constituencies. But in districts that are deeply conservative by personality, we need candidates who are pro-science, pro-rights, honest, logically fact-loving and un-bigoted… but who can also relate to locals… by personality.  Elsewhere, in a 3-part series, I talk about the richest possible source of such candidates.  Men and women of rectitude who can compel even the reddest voter to actually listen to a democrat, possibly for the first time in his or her life.

(That is what retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate achieved, in my own district. Republicans who had never listened to a democrat gave him their ear, and he came within 1,150 votes of toppling the infamous Darrell Issa.)

But how should you allocate your political time and energy?  Yes, national issues matter!  Give money to the fight against gerrymandering, and Arnold Schwarznegger will match your contribution!

But Burmila adds:

“The payoff of being politically active simply is greater in down-ballot races. House and Senate races are of course important, but the marginal benefit of adding one more volunteer to those campaigns is small compared to what an activist can contribute to a local race. Throwing your donation and evening volunteering hours into the miasma of money and noise that is a modern congressional race is like spitting into the ocean. In a local race, the time and money you can donate will be much more impactful. Knocking on doors and speaking to a few hundred voters on behalf of an unknown candidate in a state assembly primary could make a real difference.” 

Give the rest of it a read. Then give some thought about that retired officer you know, who happens to live in a red district.  It’s arm twisting time. 

== Vote cheating ==

The new "election fraud commission" has demanded information - including social security numbers - of every voter in America, without even setting up a secure and vetted site and infrastructure to receive and secure the information. And that sets aside the Orwellian aspects of the plan.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said about his own commission’s request for voter roll data from every state: “Frankly, if a state like Kentucky or California won’t provide available information, one has to ask the question, ‘Why not? I mean, what are they trying to hide if they don’t want a presidential advisory commission to study their state voter rolls?”

What are -- *choke * – they trying to hide?  How loud would you have screeched if Barack Obama had asked for that information, sir?

To be clear, my resistance is not purist or reflexive. I would happily allow a major beefing up in voter ID if it were part of a negotiated deal that included:

(1) massive 
compliance assistance to help poor people, divorced women, the elderly etc to actually get proper ID. (Without providing assistance to comply with a new burden, every single person shouting about Voter ID is a pure hypocrite. A. Pure. Hypocrite.)

(2) a national agency to 
vet and inspect every voting machine, ensuring that it is both secure and paper-trail hand-auditable

(3) weekend voting! 


(4) registration in parallel with drivers licenses. And finally

(4) an 
end to gerrymandering.

Democrats should say: “Fine. You give in on those five honorable and reasonable things and we’ll consent to a massive, five year program to ensure all votes and voters have proper ID!

Refuse those reasonable things and all you prove yourselves to be is hypocrites.  Well... that and outright cheaters.

== Those voting machines ==

Mark Anderson concisely describes the scandalous situation: “Prior to Obama's first election, multiple testimonies from various qualified experts proved that changing voting totals in U.S. states was easy enough for a smart middle-school hacker to accomplish. In one demonstration, a champion of the fallibility of the Washington State system showed, on live TV, how local results of election returns were collected and stored on unprotected PCs using flat text files. In a matter of a couple of minutes, she was able to use Microsoft Word to pick up the file, reverse the results, and repost it.

“In the same year, a security expert testified before Congress that the Diebold machines used in many states were completely hackable. He provided proof, and demonstrated the techniques for taking close elections (typical 49% vs. 51% elections) and just switching the numbers.

“Since all of this was ground truth over eight years ago, it beggars the imagination to understand how senators today (???) can try so hard to assure the American public that, yes, Russia has just hacked into 39 states' election systems, but, NO, no, no, they didn't change any votes.”

An article on NPR asks: “What would it cost to protect the nation's voting systems from attack? About $400 million would go a long way, say cybersecurity experts. It's not a lot of money when it comes to national defense — the Pentagon spent more than that last year on military bands alone — but getting funds for election systems is always a struggle.”

At a Senate intelligence committee hearing last week about Russian hacking during last year's election, Jeanette Manfra , the acting deputy under secretary for cybersecurity at the Department Homeland Security recommended that election officials have a paper-based audit process to identify anomalies after an election.  While that's the advice most cybersecurity experts give, right now more than a dozen states use electronic voting machines that have no paper backup. 

 == End the travesty! ==

High on the list of Republican nightmares is the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court might issue its long-overdue ruling against gerrymandering — a blatant cheat and crime against the people and constitution of the United States.  The court weaseled out, back in 2004, by throwing up its hands and proclaiming, “we don’t see a clean solution, so we won’t even try.” But there are signs that, in this new case, Justice Kennedy at least is reconsidering.


One difference, this time, is that mathematicians and statisticians have given the anti-gerrymandering forces a new, legal argument based not on maps but upon each voter’s proportionate likelihood of ever having a vote that matters.  
A second difference is that the maps have gotten so much worse and so spectacularly egregious that it should “shock the conscience” of even John Roberts and Samuel Alito. (To be clear, it is time for those two gentlemen to decide, at last, whether they are with the people and the great American Experiment, or rationalizing enablers of a feudal-oligarchic putsch.)
 One potential solution, offered on Slate by Jordan Ellenberg, would certainly help: increase the number of state legislators in each state.  Doubling the number makes gerrymandering much, much harder. There are drawbacks, of course, since this adds expense to state government, though miserly New Hampshire does fine with a House of Representatives with 400 members, each one representing just more than 3,000 people.

“Enlarging state legislatures obviously wouldn’t do anything to solve the problem of gerrymandering U.S. congressional seats (though lots of people think the House of Representatives, too, should be a lot larger).”
Also: “In some states, Wisconsin among them, increasing the size of the legislature would require amending the state constitution.”

And none of this changes what I wrote several years ago, about gerrymandering here.

While democratic politicians are very very different from republican ones, the DP pols used to buy into the criminal voter-rape of gerrymandering… till voters in many blue states rebelled! California, Oregon, Washington and others — blue voters slapped their preferred politicians across the face and said “stop it!” And the Goppers cheered, knowing with certainty that they’d gain advantages… but it didn’t happen!  Democrats did BETTER after the cheat was removed!

But the sheeplike confederate masses have never lifted their heads to rebel against this travesty. Nor will they.  

Lest I get repetitious... it’s down at the state level where all the political power lies… and where the confeds are most vulnerable. Examples: Two members of the Oklahoma legislature were forced to end their time in office prematurely. State Rep. Dan Kirby (R) had a nasty habit of making unwanted sexual advances toward female members of his staff, while State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) allegedly had an even nastier habit of paying for sex...with children. So, they're both out.
Recently, Sooner State voters went to the polls to choose replacements and, in a surprise, both seats went to Democrats.

Elsewhere I have urged “Don’t Impeach! At least not yet.”  Those reasons still stand, and this article agrees… with a disturbing cavil that reminds us: “There are dozens of terrible things Trump could do on his way out of the door: He could pardon accomplices or ignore court orders. He could incite violence or start a foreign war. So, by all means, let us rejoice that Trump is weaker today than he has been at any previous point in his presidency. But let us also remember that the immense danger he poses to the American republic has not passed as long as he occupies the White House.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How did humans "overshoot" in intelligence? Plus a Tech Roundup!

Phew. The news cycle has slowed enough to get our heartbeats down just a tad.  So how about some stimulus on the positive-hopeful side? You are still a member of a spectacular, scientific civilization. The War on Science (and all other fact-using professions) will not succeed if we keep our spirits up. So let's roll up our sleeves and dive into some amazing stuff.

But our main feature this time? A riff on why humans may have shot way beyond "threshold" levels of intelligence.

== How did we get so smart? And what does it imply? ===

How did we evolve intelligence? In a classic paper, Nicholas Bostrom (author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies) and Carl Shulman appraised the Hard Intelligence problem with some panache. Yet they left out a crucial observation — (I believe I am one of the few to state it explicitly) — called the Glass Ceiling Effect.  That the rise to sapience is blatantly non-linear.

We see dozens of species that cluster near quite similar levels of threshold semantic ability and basic tool use.  A level that (in my novels) I have long called “pre-sapience.”  This clustering, which includes several diverse mammals (apes, elephants, sea lions and possibly prairie dogs), birds (corvids, parrots), and perhaps even cephalopods, implies two things:

1- that rising to this level is relatively easy and
2- moving beyond it is - for some reason - very hard.

#1 and #2 seem to be logically derived from observation. There are added implications, though. The stunning degree to which we crashed through and moved beyond this ceiling — leaping many orders of magnitude in semantics, tool use and other realms — suggests either:

3- moving through the ceiling, while rare, opens up whole realms of mentation in a nonlinear way.

 Or else

4-  the opposite. Reaping any benefit from sapience requires a species to continue evolving very rapidly, moving to a distant and very difficult plateau, or its fitness profile will collapse back to pre-sapience. Alas, #4 fits the facts better than #3, by far.

Either way, the implications are that human sapience is likely to be rare.

But there’s more. Consider dogs and goats.  As soon as humans developed a 100 word vocabulary and fire and stone spears, we were the top predators - especially after we got a partnership with dogs - and we could then defend goat herds, which proliferated to denude vast stretches of land, causing deserts to spread long before agriculture. Hence, we were already wrecking the planet at that level of borderline effective sapience. (Of course, irrigated agriculture then spread deserts even more dramatically.)

We might now save the Earth!  (See my novel Earth.) But only because we leaped ahead to be capable of ecological science just 10,000 years after we began herding goats. That’s an evolutionary eye-blink, so rapid that much of the planet is still in decent shape!

Picture a species that crosses this gulf more conventionally, or more slowly. Then by the time they get smart enough to understand ecology, it’s already too late. Their world is too impoverished to support a major, industrial civilization, capable of spaceflight.

In other words, our non-linear leap from threshold pre-sapience to interplanetary tech and ecological management might affect the Fermi Paradox in two ways. First, it happens only rarely, and second, it must be very non-linear, almost exponential in order to leave the species with adequate resources to expand.

What might be a mechanism for this non-linear leap? Roger Penrose’s hypotheses merit some scrutiny here. Is it possible that this exponential nonlinearity of mental growth happens because we  reached a threshold, where new modes became possible, suddenly?  Perhaps Penrose’s quantum effects in the brain. Or else dramatic leaps in available software. (The latter is my own theory about this… successful software reprogramming revolutions, 100,000, then 40,000, then 15,000, 6000, 2000, and 250 years ago.  I describe this in Existence.)

Furthermore, Nick Bostrom’s speculations about numbers of neurons winds up being quaint and irrelevant if you ponder recent discoveries about intracellular and inter-cellular computation, which suggest levels of computability many, many orders of magnitude greater than mere synapses.

This suggests that sapience may not be as common as we assumed. Simon Conway-Morris of Cambridge - author of Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe - is the accepted maven of Convergent evolution. But he has lately retracted his earlier stance that full sapience will naturally and convergently evolve.

Finally, there is Nick’s attempt to draw conclusions about the difficulty of artificial intelligence… These  I shrugged aside as tendentious leaps without much justification. In my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016, I presented a tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation.

And yes, this will be nonlinear, as well.

== Tools and more tools ==

Stanford’s new, four-layer 3D-chip design replaces silicon with carbon nanotubes (sheets of 2-D graphene formed into nanocylinders). The top layer has sensors, then resistive random-access memory (RRAM) cells. Then two logic layers. Three-dimensional integration is the most promising approach to continue the technology-scaling path set forth by Moore’s law, allowing an increasing number of devices to be integrated per unit volume…

…though in fact, Moore’s law is collapsing in what I call the Big Flip, as the last 50 years of advancement in computational hardware slows down to its long-awaited S-Curve… but progress in software (which had been glacial) seems to have taken off spectacularly - especially in Learning Systems - in just the last couple of years.

A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window.

Pharmacy on Demand: DARPA has a really neat project in battlefield medicine for a small (dorm fridge size) synthesizer that can produce pretty much any basic pharmacy drug (chemical) to GMP levels using base ingredients.

Their next project which is well underway is a biologicals machine (enzymes, mRNAs, etc.) In developing a flexible, miniaturized synthesis and manufacturing platform, Battlefield Medicine will lead to distributed, on-demand small-batch pharmaceutical production in austere environments. 

It correlates with other advances such as the recent Qualcomm "Tricorder XPrize" which advanced the capability of hand carried disease diagnostic systems.  http://tricorder.xprize.org/  Many pieces are coming together at the same time.

A “living” programmable “ribocomputing” device based on networks of precisely designed, self-assembling synthetic RNAs (ribonucleic acid). The RNAs can sense multiple biosignals and make logical decisions to control protein production with high precision. The research was performed with E. coli bacteria, which regulate the expression of a fluorescent (glowing) reporter protein when the bacteria encounter a specific complex set of intra-cellular stimuli. But the researchers believe ribocomputing devices can work with other host organisms or in extracellular settings. What could go wrong?

Will we see the return of storing bulk data on… magnetic tape? Oh, but at the recent Science Foo Camp (on the Google Campus) George Church told us about the near feasibility of storing all the world's books in a cup of DNA... (Also ask him about resurrecting mammoths!)

All around the world, scientists are building repositories of everything from seeds to ice to mammal milk — racing to preserve a natural order that is fast disappearing.  Both disturbing and reassuring in some ways… though I admit some pique that the description of “life arks” in EARTH (1989) gets no mention.

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes, a new book by Richard A. Clarke & R.P. Eddy, offers insights into how we can weigh predictions, especially when it comes to national security, threatening technologies, the U.S. economy, and possibly the fate of civilization. In Greek mythology Cassandra foresaw calamities, but was cursed by the gods to be ignored. Modern-day Cassandras predicted the disasters of Katrina, Fukushima, the Great Recession, the rise of ISIS, and many more. Like the mythological Cassandra, they were ignored. There are others right now warning of impending disasters, but as Ray Kurzweil asks: “how do we know which warnings are likely to be right? … Clarke’s and Eddy’s penetrating insights are essential for any person, any business, or any government that doesn’t want to be a blind victim of tomorrow’s catastrophe.”  

Alas, short-shrift is given to the truest font of such alarums… hard, high-level science fiction.

== And some setbacks ==

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) -- who is bafflingly chair of the House Science Committee -- penned an op-ed praising the “benefits” of climate change. He goes so far as to celebrate carbon dioxide emissions for melting Arctic ice to allow for “new commercial shipping lanes”. They've spent years telling us climate change wasn’t happening, then human-generated CO2 wasn't responsible... and now it’s suddenly a good thing?' Sorry 314 guys. This has been going on for years. 

These towering hypocrites shift the goal posts with stunning agility. Vast farms in Canada will replace those lost to desert in Mexico and Texas! (Oops, there's no topsoil up there, and even if things warm enough for crops, there'll just be one, short growing season, to replace two long ones, down south.) And thawing tundra will pour gigatons of methane into the atmosphere. But this is the sort of raving monster the GOP puts in charge of the Science Committee. And even if your crazed uncle is beyond reach, maybe his wife isn't. Go have coffee with your aunt. 

He may relish the end of the world; she'll frown and worry about her grandchildren.

Finally....

Here's a good article on METI - the rash cult wanting to send "messages" to aliens - and the response of a dozen SETI thought-leaders, including myself, asking for discussion.

Not that I’m unhappy with how things turned out… but where was this “sapiosexuality” movement, back when I was a frustrated student at Caltech? hm? Well, it's a new and better and wiser generation.