Saturday, July 22, 2017

Moore's Law's demise and the crisis of expertise

A short one, this weekend... I'll have much more to say about the demise of Moore's Law... and the simultaneous sudden surge in software innovation, soon.

Here’s a deeply thoughtful and well supported missive on expertise, especially scientific, and the troubled way in which expert views are often over- or under-appreciated: The Crisis of Expertise by Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.

Tom Nichols doesn’t address vexatious issues like the War on Science, a politically propelled vendetta that has metastacized into a broad-front attack upon all fact-using professions. Nor does he explore the fascinating tradeoffs between two centuries — the 20th, which featured a Professionalization of Everything — and the 21st, whose amazing ‘Rise of the Amateur’ I document elsewhere.

No, this rumination zeroes in, thoughtfully, on the difficulty of truth-seeking and reliable verifiability in science, especially when it gives advice to policy.

== Beyond Moore's Law ==

The demise of Moore’s Law: “The computing industry is adjusting to the loss of two things it has relied on for 50 years to keep chips getting more powerful. One is Moore’s Law, which forecast that the number of transistors that could be fitted into a given area of a chip would double every two years. The other is a phenomenon called Dennard scaling, which describes how the amount of power that transistors use scales down as they shrink. Neither holds true today,” writes Tom Simonite in Technology Review. But this article asserts that it doesn’t matter, because while the pace of hardware improvement has slackened, coincidentally, the long-sluggish state of software has experienced some rapid surges with advances by Google and others in the field of Machine Learning.  

The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI: As Machine Learning takes off, it is important for humans to understand what’s going on under the hood, as we embark on an era when algorithm systems determine who makes parole, who’s approved for a loan, and who gets hired for a job? There’s already an argument that being able to interrogate an AI system about how it reached its conclusions is a fundamental legal right. Starting in the summer of 2018, the European Union may require that companies be able to give users an explanation for decisions that automated systems reach. This might be impossible, even for systems that seem relatively simple on the surface, such as the apps and websites that use deep learning to serve ads or recommend songs,” writes Wil Knight in Technology Review.

This raises mind-boggling questions. As the technology advances, we might soon cross some threshold beyond which using AI requires a leap of faith. Sure, we humans can’t always truly explain our thought processes either—but we find ways to intuitively trust and gauge people.” 

Hm, well, that intuition thing has always been iffy, even with each other.  No, what finally started with us was not understanding each other so much as gaining tools  to hold each other accountable. Which unleashed (in a few places) flat-fair competition.  Which unleashed creativity. But only where accountability could take root.

== Problems and solutions ==

Those of you who expected designed creatures any day now… “As CRISPR-Cas9 starts to move into clinical trials, a new study published in Nature Methods has found that the gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome.  In other words… time for caution, children. Maybe even another Asilomar Conference.  

See this explored in more detail in: A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg.

Steven Koonin (now at NYU/CUSP but previously Undersecretary for Science at the DOE) was a housemate of mine at Caltech. (We were all a wee bit in awe of Steve.) Steve has proposed an approach to resolving the (deliberately stirred) fog and murk around Climate Change in much the same way that I’ve proposed, for years — by creating an arena for full-frontal debate, dealing with every issue with a systematic, adversarial process. It’s natural that he should choose this path. Top scientists like Koonin and Roger Penrose (with whom I dined, last month) are among the most competitive humans our species ever produced. And with good reason, since that is how creative endeavors flourish. 

See Koonin's proposal outlined in A 'Red Team' Exercise would strengthen Climate Science.... which complements my own articles on reciprocal accountability. Our "arenas" of democracy,science, markets and courts all wither in darkness… and operate best in light.

Of course I have opinions as to which “side” would ultimately win such a healthy process, and today’s right has the same suspicion, illustrated by their desperate measures to avoid open fact-checking. Still, I am willing to be proved wrong and even fascinated, when that happens!  So bring on the “disputation arenas” that I’ve called-for, across 25 years!

 == Interesting snippets ==

Interesting study shows that dads are more attentive to their toddler daughters than sons and encourage more analytic thinking.  I would reckon this might be partially cultural and perhaps even a bit recent.A new kind of “flow battery” would let you replace the liquid electrolytes at a service station as fast as you fill now with a tank of gas, letting the old fluids get recharged by solar power.
A new kind of "flow battery" would let you replace the liquid electrolytes at a service station as fast as you fill now with a tank of gas, letting the old fluids get recharged by solar power.

This entertaining “Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense” deliberately veers away from anything political – in other words the conspiracy theories and denialist cults that are harming us the worst. Still, it amusingly categorizes and arranges many of the silly fetishes that your neighbors (some of them, but never you!) indulge in.

Gangs of orcas and sperm whales are robbing halibut fishermen in the Bering Sea.The orcas will wait all day for a fisher to accumulate a catch of halibut, and then deftly rob them blind. They will relentlessly stalk individual fishing boats, sometimes forcing them back into port.” Oh, but elsewhere on the planet, pods of dolphins will herd schools of fish toward humans who share the catch. Should these halibut fellows study that trick? 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What is magic? What was the most optimistic SF series? And other Questions!

Passing along news for anyone who is heading to Helsinki, for the World Science Fiction Convention. The week before, on 7th of August 2017, the Russian SF community (partly at my urging) is helping to host an International Futurological Conference “Book of the Future” in St Petersburg. "Speakers will discuss the future of literature and the transformation of the book concept because of technological changes in the creation and circulation of literature works and in access to the books, as well as structural changes in information consumption in society. Participation is free, but the organizers kindly request you to register right now." Write to

== What is Magic? ==

Over on Quora, someone asked: “What is the most interesting magic system from fantasy, sci-fi or anime?

You are all welcome to chime in! I have spoken about defining both "magic" and "fantasy" frequently. For example here. (I conclude that a sci fi novelist is the greatest magician, ever!)

But this Quora question was about magical systems and methods. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive in. Most magical systems rely upon a short list of basic fulcra:

1- Similarity — make something similar to the object you seek to control. A recognizable or realistic voodoo doll of a person. Or a  model of the valley where you want rain to fall.

2- Contagion - add something that was part of the object you wish to control, e.g. add a person’s real hair trimmings to the voodoo doll.

3- True Names. Related to similarity. You gain power if you know the object’s full (or hidden) names.

4- Appeal to powers. Invoke mighty spirits - or God - by offering what they want. Something valuable, ranging from a human sacrifice all the way to promising to be a good boy or girl. (Or try appealing to Tim Powers.)

5- Art. A florid- dynamic-dramatic verbal incantation helps… it is the technique used by cable news and politicians to dazzle millions into magical thinking and hostility to fact-based and scientific systems. Other art enhancements could be visual or musical. Heck, my incantation called Existence uses one million little black squiggles (letters) in a long-winding chain to cast an incantation that takes you on spectacular adventures in space and time!

Note that all of these seemed to be reasonable things for our ancestors to try, even though magic almost never worked in the physical, objective world. Why did they keep doing itthen, in every culture? First, because these are all methods that work… on our fellow human beings! Persuasion uses all of them and other humans are the most important part of the environment. It was just an extrapolation for people to believe they could also persuade the capricious and deadly forces of nature.

Second, pattern seeking. We invest our hopes into an incantation… and shrug off when it fails, but shout with confirmation, if the thing we wanted happens.

All told, magic has been a horrid sickness that hobbled humans for ages, preventing us from honestly separating what works from what doesn’t. But we are all descended from priests and shamans who got extra food and mates because they pulled off this mumbo-jumbo really well. Their genes flow through our brains, today. No wonder there’s a War on Science!

But if you truly want a different system of magic -- one that departs from all of the above -- try my fun novel The Practice Effect ;-)

== More from Quora ==

Another Quora science fiction question: What is the best sci-fi film/television franchise? Please do answer something other than Star Wars — mainly because it is more fantasy than sci-fi, regardless of the midi-chlorians.”

Okay, I'll bite:

Stargate was by far the best and most thorough exploration of a science fictional premise. It was tightly consistent and episodes all correlated with each other in a series of very well-managed plot and character arcs, while always striving to at least nod in the direction of scientific plausibility. It was also successful at engendering massive numbers of hours of diverse stories at a fairly low budget.

A final point about Stargate… it is one of the only SF franchises to revolve around a motif that is essentially optimistic. Yes, Earthlings emerge into a cosmos rife with danger -- but logic and goodwill and courage generally combine well in a can-do spirit that encourages hope and belief in ourselves. 

Of course, the equally good Star Trek had all of those traits, with a bit lower score (though still pretty high) on consistency, with even more hours and even more optimism.

Ranking in the same general area - with similar qualities - would be Babylon Five.

See where I explain why optimism is so hard to do in sci fi, and hence so rare: The Idiot Plot.

An excellent SF TV franchise at the opposite end of the optimism scale would be the remake of Battlestar Galactica. The premise and universe remained kinda dumb. But it had the best damn writing team imaginable. You had to watch.

The new The Expanse has similar qualities. Of course Firefly was wonderful, filled with zest and joy of life.

See where I dive into a lot of similar topics, in articles and postings about sci fi media and dystopias: Speculations on Science Fiction

Oh, and there are other ways to ask me questions, than Quora. (And this blog's comment section.) I give one minute answers - by voice, on your phone - to your questions via the Askers App

== Visions of the future ==

Some of you may have noticed the cool – if somewhat cryptic – advert campaign from Arconic Corp., giving us 60 seconds of lavish-filmic updating of the most famous future-utopian family. The year 2062 reimagined by filmmaker Justin Lin.

If you haven’t seen it, drop everything for some badly needed cheering up about tomorrow… and a glimpse of how advertising oughta be. And more about Arconic.

For a more in-depth exploration, listen to the podcast Novum: the intersection of science fiction and advertising. Best show about Science Fiction out there. Do leave a comment!

How to See Star Wars for What It Really Is: This article from Big Think reprises and discusses my impudent assertion that Star Wars has become relentless propaganda against civilization, in favor of feudalism and demigod-worship. Even the "rebels" buy in to the assumption. In this reflex, Star Wars isn't alone. Almost all fantasy stories before 1800 preached demigod worship, as did the Nazis, the Confederates and (scratching the surface) recent trends in U.S. politics. Certainly almost every single story by the gifted dazzler Orson Scott Card in the last 25 years preaches handing all power over to some mutant chosen-one, as do 90% of Fantasy tales and (alas) a large fraction of so-called "science fiction" stories. 

The contrasting mythos of Star Trek has been a rebel against this ancient and deeply sick meme. But lately, Star Wars is winning. See how the Chinese agree with my interpretation. 

Another Star Wars vs Star Trek contrast – by Manu Saadia (author of Trekonomics, The Economics of Star Trek) in the New Yorker - describes what might be the premise for Peter Thiel’s  anomie versus Trek and his preference for the rule by tyrants and demigods, in George Lucas’s cosmos. (Critiqued in my book Star Wars on Trial.) While Thiel’s devotion to the Randian-Ubermenschian wing of libertarianism is well-established, I think this author may be over-reaching, in this case. Moreover, the notion that a generous and free post-scarcity society will lack competition is a flaw in Saadia’s entire construct. Indeed, no realm of human activity has ever been more competitive than the two that flourish in a Trekkian world – the arts and the sciences. 

Still, one thing is amply demonstrated by this article… the fact that the New Yorker, along with the Atlantic, Harpers and the rest of the New York liter-artsy community, have completely dropped their former, reflexive hatred for science fiction! Back in TwenCen, these zines used to issue hit pieces against SF in regular rhythm. Now, all of that is gone, and no one seems more eager to discuss SFnal concepts, using SF'nal tropes to make comparisons.

If this transition to future orientation would only rise within the halls of literary academe – the English and Literature departments that still fester with resentment toward the most fecund and creative (and most-American) genre – then perhaps the side of our society that dreams of progress will be united at last, and ready to take on the real enemies of progress. 

Sharing my dismay over Lucasian silliness, though for different reasons…. Here’s a fascinating and fun reminiscence by legendary author Michael Moorcock, of his friend Arthur C. Clarke, with insights into the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

And here, we've established UCSD's new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift. 

OK SciFi take yer bows. You predicted this! Giant, Man-amplifying waldo robots are here!

Reality TV with a better than average premise. Contestants try to drop out and hide  as if being hunted… and they are!  By retired or profession cops and such, on HUNTED. Of course science fiction has been there.  

Final note... spread the word to your nerdiest Science Fiction scholars!  Those with shelves that groan under rows of old Astounding and Amazing magazines. Those of you who remember plot gimicks and twists you read as a teen.  Society needs your deep memory of past SF thought experiments!  Stay tuned for something called TASAT ("There's a Story About That.") Your nerdy memories may wind up helping to save the world!

Hey... it culd happen!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The masterful art of manipulation

== Collusion or treason? ==

While it’s now absolutely verified that Russia tried to interfere in our elections -- and the smokey stench of collusion by the American right has parted to reveal treasonously criminal flame – the most significant cheats warping our democracy are (so far) perfectly legal.  

Take the cheat of hyper-partisanship. As I write this, Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has just been released from prison. For 6 years this admitted child molester was head of the entire Republican Party and the GOP's standard bearer. His "Hastert Rule" punished any Republican who negotiated - even over vital national interest - with any Democrat, helping Rupert Murdoch to make the GOP the most tightly disciplined partisan machine in U.S. history.

It was Hastert's #2 Republican - Tom DeLay also later a convicted felon - who raised political cheating to a high art, through the outrage called Gerrymandering. But now that seems  so quaint and 20th Century, because the computer-connected age has brought us something even more scary: using Big Data to target and manipulate individual voters. This deep report by Newsweek -- How Big Data Mines Personal Info to Craft Fake News and Manipulate Voters -- will inform (and scare) you.

Big Data, artificial intelligence and algorithms designed and manipulated by strategists like the folks at Cambridge Analytica have turned our world into a Panopticon, the 19th-century circular prison designed so that guards, without moving, could observe every inmate every minute of every day. 

"Our 21st-century watchers are not just trying to sell us vacations in Tuscany because they know we have Googled Italy or bought books about Florence on Amazon. They exploit decades of behavioral science research into the flawed, often irrational ways human beings make decisions to subtly “nudge” us—without our noticing it—toward one candidate.” writes Nina Burleigh.

Democrats are scurrying to play catch-up. But that's not the ideal method to crack today's online "nuremberg rally" echo chambers of self-reinforced opinion (that I predicted in EARTH (1989).)  Far better will be to send emissaries who can shatter the manipulation face-to face. As I describe in this earlier three-parter. 

== Deep State ==

The alt-right coalition of confederates, feudalists and foreign lords all know that their hold on Red America will shatter, if hundreds of retired officers run for office, in every conservative state assembly district.  And hence, they are busy undermining our longstanding respect for those who serve and who served, not just with courage but also fierce intelligence and attention tho things called facts.

Know the "deep state" meme for what it is. The first salvo of a campaign against the last fact-centered professions to be attacked by the crazed right -- civil servants, the intelligence community, law professionals and the military officer corps who keep us safe. All have balked at the Fox-Murdoch-Koch-Putin-Saudi led War on Science, journalism, teaching, economics, medicine and every other reality-centered group in American life.

You ask: how do they think they'll get away with including military officers and the FBI on their enemies list? The answer: distraction with paranoid fantasies! It's all a big conspiracy! Keep pointing at the "elites" who know stuff and who use facts! Millions of Americans will keep turning their gaze away from the rapid gathering of feudal power into the hands of just a few hundred families.

Oh, sure, let's have transparency and accountability in government! State functionaries could become dangerous, though I know a lot of them and this generation, at least, is almost entirely sincere. We can remind our watch dogs to stay loyal dogs -- not wolves -- with leashes of accountability. Not by spewing hate at them, just because they believe in objective reality.

I'll be talking about it this weekend, at Freedom Fest, the annual conclave of Libertarians, in Las Vegas.  And yes, I am an impudent dissenter, talking up Adam Smith and Robert Heinlein as alternatives to the "hate-only-government" obsession that is pushed by proto-feudal lords. Whether you believe it or not, I feel the soul of libertarianism is worth fighting for!)

Okay, so here is where we draw a line, folks. Leap (fast and hard!) upon every single use of the term "deep state" by hypocrites who wave flags on Veteran's Day, then screech hate at our defenders, at the behest of oligarchs. Be ready for this latest venom and reflect it back. 

In the 1950s, attacking the U.S. Army was Joe McCarthy's last and fatal mistake.  May it be so again. 

== Media to the rescue ==

There is reassurance.  Every new media system was at first used by cynical manipulators. The printing press first poured forth hateful tracts that exacerbated Europe’s 17th Century religious wars. 1930s radio and loudspeakers empowered gifted, callous Svengalis. But over time, civilization developed immune systems. And the new techs actually helped to make us broader, more perceptive and better.

And so. Hey sane-conservatives. You need to add the Evonomics site to your reading every week. Sure, your reflex will be to dismiss these folks as "lefties." But they are the people mentioning and citing Adam Smith more than anyone else.  They truly want Capitalism to work.

Indeed, it worked in the 1950s and 60s, delivering rapid growth at low class-wealth disparity, under "rooseveltean" rules and tax rates that our parents in the Greatest Generation approved and worked well under. Rules and rates that partisans systematically dismantled, starting with Ronald Reagan, making Supply Side Voodoo promises that never once came true, ever, even once.  And growth rates declined and wealth disparities rose, with every move away from the Greatest Generation's social contract.

Just saying, man...

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Forget politics. This is all about fragile personality and dangerous psychology.

More and more we are coming  to realize that this is all about psychology. About personality. And while our Enlightenment Revolution has relied on some of the strongest positives in human nature, there are wretched reflexes -- e.g. fear -- that would-be tyrants exploit.

Elsewhere, I referred to George Lakoff's much-bruited appraisal of the 1/3 + of Americans who need a "strong father" in their politics, a desperate yearning that - ironically - led them flocking to the most fragile leader we've ever had. Indeed, this led to my proposal that the Democrats in 2018 should run retired military officers - whole sheaves of them - into every red Assembly district, providing men and women whose mien of strength is genuine, mature, fact-using and undogmatic. It's happening!  But much too slowly.

But above all, we must admit that facts will only play a minor role in this struggle. And righteousness will be an impediment. Instead, what we need right now is clear-eyed understanding of the dark psychology of our crisis.

Below, I will cite several books - one of them by Rebecca Solnit - that appraise our present danger in terms that are more subtle and accurate than shouts of good-vs.-evil. Moreover, while our much-maligned "deep state" public servants will do what they can to protect us from rash impulses at the top, this is also going to take savvy political leadership. And hence...

The French to the rescue.  President Macron is being criticized for "cozying up" to Donald Trump, during the recent Bastille Day visit. I shout "magnifique!" At last, someone in the West who understands the psychology of our peril. We already have one terrified, thin-skinned, nuclear-armed narcissist, in Pyongyang. We don't need a bigger one entering siege mentality, feeling that his only friends are family, fundies and Fourth-Turning apocalypse fans, all of them urging a spasmodic response.

Elsewhere, I offered up a proposal that the smartest democratic politicians (e.g. Al Franken) should draw straws, and the losers take on an onerous task for the possible survival of our republic and even species. These Short Straw Democrats should continue to denounce every loony administration policy! Only then, they would end every such statement with a flattering remark about how good looking the President is! Something shallow - certainly transparent - yet personal. 

You think this is a joke, I know. But I'm quite serious. This is a fellow who actually cares very little about the policy stances he's taken. All that matters to Donald Trump is his personal sense of pique. Sociopaths in his circle are taking advantage of that. Are democrats and adults in Washington too stupid or obstinate to even try?

You say that everyone will know what they are doing? Of course they will! Bannon and Kushner will scream at DT to ignore the obvious ploy. Franken & co. can even wink! It won't matter. The flatterers will be invited to dinner... to golf... and the Man With The Button will wind up being less isolated. Less under control of the Pence-Bannon cabal.

Alas, no Democrat has either the brains or the guts to grit their teeth and do what's necessary. But President Macron apparently does! Vive La France!

== The Loneliness of Trump ==

There are few essayists in America with the verve, sophistication and diversity of topics wielded by Rebecca Solnit, whose “A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster” utterly smashed the pat notion that average Americans are wimpy little cowards. They are – as demonstrated by the heroes of flight UA93 – agile and adaptable and – as I portray in “The Postman” – capable of great heroism.

In "The Loneliness of Donald Trump," Solnit turns her perceptive gaze on our president… only with an added layer of compassion for a man whose mix of feral cunning and low-brow mentation blend with the insatiable yearnings of some Vonnegut character, unable to relish or enjoy any accomplishment other than brief episodes of delicious revenge. 

(Cue the photo of DT having dinner with Mitt Romney; all right, that was precious.)  

Have a look at Solnit's remarkable essay; both laugh and cry. And grasp that this fellow is not Satan! He’s dangerous and damaging, to be sure. But also a tragic figure and perhaps best neutralized - even drawn toward pools of light - rather than fought like an enemy. (There are, in his circle, genuine enemies of all that's good and American, to be sure.)

One of Solnit's paragraphs encapsulates the problem humanity faced, during the 6000 years that feudalism controlled most human affairs: 

I have often run across men (and rarely, but not never, women) who have become so powerful in their lives that there is no one to tell them when they are cruel, wrong, foolish, absurd, repugnant. In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures.”

And oh, there is this wisdom I have pushed in so many places, like The Transparent Society, but not quite so well as Solnit does here:

 “We keep each other honest, we keep each other good with our feedback, our intolerance of meanness and falsehood, our demands that the people we are with listen, respect, respond—if we are allowed to, if we are free and valued ourselves.”

Oh, the tragedy that Americans have no sense of this history. That humanity – largely led by this nation’s Great Experiment – began to escape 250 years ago, via new tools of transparency, reciprocal criticism, gradually expanding rights, and yet more reciprocal criticism, of the kind that Donald Trump and his ilk so desperately seek to avoid. Solnit writes of the truest kind of friendship, which is non-destructively competitive, provided by: equals who are generous but keep you accountable, true mirrors who reflect back who you are and what you are doing.”

Alas, she paints a portrait of our chief executive that we should keep on our walls… comparing it to the pictures of FDR and Eisenhower and Kennedy that the Greatest Generation kept on theirs:

A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. 

"But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not, but the people he bullied pretended that it did. Or perhaps it was that he was a salesman, throwing out one pitch after another, abandoning each one as soon as it left his mouth. A hungry ghost always wants the next thing, not the last thing.”

Have a look at “The Loneliness of Donald Trump,” so voluptuous in blending sad empathy with righteous anger. 

Mind you, I sometimes disagree with Solnit. Her dips into liberal finger-wagging can at times go overboard, though the direction that she aims is almost always wise. In this case she uses compassion as a weapon, to diminish our terror of what may, in time, turn out to be something pathetic, rather than truly dangerous. From that realization may come quiet strength.

== Bipolar politics ==

Oh, may we be so lucky! But meanwhile, we must prepare against the worst.  Here is another article that attempts a detailed diagnosis of what's happened. About half of it is spot-on, which is way above average.

But while everyone zooms in on a symptom -- Donald Trump -- far too few aim light at the disease itself. So, let me refer you back to my own recent diagnosis to explain the sudden veers of U.S. conservatism, as it re-enters one of its manic phases. 

See “How dangerous is Republican manic-depressive syndrome? While the normal GOP condition is sullen, lazy, depressive obstructionism, this can take a sharp swing to feverish frenzy. In fact, it always happens, when a Democratic President gets out of the way.

 Both bipolar phases are destructive, but the manic ones kill. Moreover, last time I described how the latest war-seeking cult in the Trump White House, lacks even the optimistic veneer of the Bushite neocons. Busily concocting any excuse for a violent distraction, their most-likely target would seem to be Iran. The Saudis want it and Vladimir Putin adores the idea! Any U.S. attack on Iran will strengthen the mullahs, weaken the modernists over there and drive Iran to seek shelter under Russia’s nuclear umbrella, making them a client state. Oh, and what better way to divert attention from the GOP’s domestic troubles?

But forget all those surface reasons. These people are propelled by zero-sum psychology. And war -- whether against Iran or North Korea or made-up aliens -- is its most extreme projection. That terrifying psychology is one reason that most of our senior officer corps -- steeped in Marshallian, positive sum traditions and trained to cope with a world of actual facts -- want nothing to do with war mania.

And hence, the fanatics will need pretexts. A cassus belli. Our intelligence agencies will balk at doing another WMD spoof. So it’ll have to be something violent and dazzling. A Tonkin Gulf or Gleiwitz incident. A 9/11 city disaster or a Reichstag Fire. Putin’s guys had better be very careful, though. Our intel guys are watching for this, now. Exactly this.

== What is the Far Right's Endgame? ==

Continuing with this posting's psychological theme... this article from Slate by Rebecca Onion plumbs the roots of the program of the U.S. aristocratic right, and in particular Charles Koch's relationship with a Nobel winning economist-philosopher, James McGill Buchanan - explored in Nancy MacLean's new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. 

Even more than Leo Strauss or the oft-misquoted Friedrich Hayek, Buchanan concocted the incantations by which the Lords rationalize undermining democracy.

At surface, these incantations sound vaguely plausible, e.g. fear of mob rule and the mob "voting themselves largesse" by taxing the productive members of society. Then there's the "Iron Law" that bureaucracies lose track of their mission and soon work only for their own enlargement. 

I have attended many libertarian events and read a lot of their works. (I'll be speaking at Freedom Fest next week, in Vegas, hoping to wean some liberty-lovers away from their concocted bond with oligarchs.) Over the years, I've been dazzled by the effectiveness of these outrageously false memes -- how each and every one of them has been devastatingly refuted by actual facts... and that makes no difference to the devotion that feudalist zealots devote to them.

See - for example - my own evisceration of this religious cult... because that is what it is, when incantations are used to make adherents feel special and chosen, despite mountains and mountains of contrary evidence.

Alas, while Nancy MacLean's book is cogently necessary, Rebecca Onion's review leaves out that crucial word -- Feudalism.  The right's entire program is to concoct incantations, rationalizations and strategies for its re-imposition, despite 6000 years of history, in which 99% of human cultures used that governance method and failed calamitously. Indeed, this is the burden of proof that they skirt with their magical chants.

1. One civilization has achieved 100x as much success in each and every category of human accomplishment than all feudal realms combined.  So? Prove to us how that one success story should be deemed a "wrong path."

2.  You fellows howl that bureaucrats are at-best inefficient and at-worst tyrants. But prove to us that lordship, oligarchies or corporate CEOs and boards are any less prone to every single failure mode that you rail against.   Except the agile tech companies... whose leaders are mostly... democrats.

== Miscellany ==

So much happens, it's hard to sort it all. So...

Over the last 12 months, 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – shell companies -- compare with 4% of buyers in the previous two years.  Oh, how you people would have screeched, had a democrat done even one of DT's hundred+ outrages.  Drain-the-swamp, indeed.

In a recent interview with The WorldPost, Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani argued that the last 30 years of globalization have been some of the “best” ever in Asia because a new middle class of hundreds of millions has arisen out of the dead end of poverty. Als, does anyone else point out that the uplifting of the world was America's greatest project, and it has more than half succeeded?

== Final Words about the latest S#*+ storms ==

Meanwhile, the Russia Imbroglio just gets worse for the Trumps. Amid revelation after revelation... now about Donald Trump Jr.'s admitted-blatant meetings with openly-known Kremlin emissaries... 

...and those who claim that Donald Senior knew nothing bear a steep burden of proof. 

Dig the timing. Between Junior's "I love it!" email and the actual ("disappointing") meeting in Trump Tower, then-candidate Trump made excited predictions that "within days" there would be devastating revelations about Hillary Clinton. That promise dissipated - like many others - unfulfilled.  We now know why -- because in fact the Russians had found very little on the Clintons. Neither did 24 years and half a billion dollars in GOP-led "investigations" into the most thoroughly probed couple ever, in human history. 

Sure, the Donalds - Senior and Junior - must have been disappointed. Still, the timing remains on record, and stinks.