Friday, November 26, 2010

The Libertarian Menace

Libertarians have now achieved the greatest success in their history. They have their first ever US senator, and congressmen to join the pater familias, Ron Paul. So now Libertarians want to open a dialogue, and tell us all about their Libertarian philosophy and principles.

I have one word in reply, which I learned from our senior senator, Mitch McAsshole: no.

I do not want to discuss a national sales tax or fair tax.

I do not want to discuss getting rid of the minimum wage.

I do not want to discuss getting rid of social security.

I do not want to discuss getting rid of Medicaid, Medicare, or health care reform.

I do not want to discuss getting rid of the EPA and OSHA.

I do not want to discuss getting rid of the Departments of Energy, Education, or whatever.

The whole "less government" movement is driven by the ultra-rich (in this case the Koch Brothers) and (fossil fuel) corporations for one purpose -- to get rid of those pesky government agencies so we can go back to the good old days of the robber barons like Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan (giants striding the earth!) when you could plunder the environment, workers, and the public pretty much as you wanted. The whole deficit issue is just a stalking horse, they don't really give a damn about deficits.

So what was the secret of this recent success? When David Koch ran for the senate as a Libertarian, he got 1% of the vote. What is different now?

They were given an incredible gift last year by the Supreme Court, in deciding that corporations "free speech rights as individuals" allows them to donate as much as they want to political campaigns. Nameless foundations funneled 100s of millions to candidates in the 2010 elections, with republicans winning 4 to 1. That Supreme Court decision is still incomprehensible to me.

But, they were given an even greater gift in 2008: the US, in a move that the rest of the world applauded as showing that perhaps America was true to its purported values, elected as president a black man, the son of a first generation African immigrant, with an Arab middle name.

Immediately the finest propaganda and disinformation organ in the history of the world (Goebbels would be green with envy), Faux "News", sprang into action. Glenn Dick sez, "Obama is a racist who hates whites" -- with the implication that it's only self-defense for whites to be racist and hate him back. Dick and his ilk say over and over "Obama is probably not a muslim". And the birther movement generates enough requests for Obama's birth certificate that the state of Hawaii has to set up an automated system just to fulfill them all.

The subtext of all these messages being sent to every WASP waiting to receive them was very simple:

"Obama is going to take everything you've worked so hard for and give it away to blacks, immigrants, muslims and arabs!"
And how is Obama going to do that? Why taxes of course! And aren't we ... Taxed Enough Already!

It of course helped not at all that stimulus packages, which may have helped to avoid a great depression, have created a huge deficit. But, I fixed that! The NY Times budget calculator made it easy. And no one making under $250,000 per year will pay any more taxes!

And notice, the teabaggers did not form their own party. Republicans to the bone, and real republicans at that: the best century was not the 18th, it was the 12th, before that Magna Carta thing started us on the road to democracy and away from the divine right of kings.

When the republicans are in power, the main message of Faux "News" is fear. Be afraid to where you give up civil liberties and allow warrantless wiretaps, because those will happen to "them", not "us". With the democrats in power, that message changes to anger. Get angry that Obama is going to give it all away to blacks, immigrants, muslims, and arabs who don't deserve it.

It has been a masterful strategy. That it is cynical, dangerous, and disastrous to the long term interests of the US of course matters to them not one whit, if it will further their path to power.

So what do they want? Even though the disparity in wealth between the ultra-rich and the rest of us is the greatest since the 1920s, it is looking like the bleeding heart "we have to care about everybody" democrats will cave to the hard hearted "we've got ours so we don't give a shit" republicans on extending all the Bush tax cuts. I think the dems should come back with, "OK, if you don't want to drop the cuts for those making over $250,000, how about $500,000? How about $1M? How about $10M?" Maybe then people would see who's calling the shots for the republicans.

But I don't think that the taxes are the issue. I think that the immediate goal here was stated as one of the campaign planks of the Koch's current top lapdog, our newly elected Libertarian senator Random Paul:

Fight the EPA and make full use of our natural resources.
Koch Industries is one of the top 10 air polluters in the US. I'm sure the EPA cramps their style, and, come on, the Koch brothers are captains of industry, the rest of us should get out of their way and quit whining about air quality and global warming.

They have spent 100s of millions funding global warming denial. "Bad science" or "suspect science" -- did you ever particularly hear of these before fossil fuel billionaires felt threatened? Spend a few 100 million on misinformation and you could call to question whether the earth circles the sun.

Random Paul also proposed local rather than federal mine inspection and safety standards. He's got his "Friend of Coal" license plate, I'm sure. Did you know that pregnant women in Kentucky are advised not to eat fish caught in our beautiful lakes because of the high mercury content which comes from our many coal-burning electric plants? And that the rest of us are only supposed to eat fish once a week?

In his book "Collapse" (blogged here), Jared Diamond talks about mining as being one of the most environmentally damaging industries. It used to be standard practice for mining companies to create mountains or lakes of toxic byproducts, declare bankrupcy, close down the company, and move on, leaving a toxic mess for the government to clean up. And a little better process up front can avoid the whole thing, but, there goes that big government interfering in business again.

I believe in progress. I believe that all men are created equal. I believe that the struggle continues, that the words of Lincoln are as true now as they were 150 years ago:

It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You toil and work and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.

–Abraham Lincoln, Seventh and Last Joint Debate with Steven Douglas, held at Alton, Illinois, Oct. 15, 1858.

I cannot believe how quickly people forget, and how quick they are to sell out. Just because you make a million, or two, or 10, does not mean you have to become a republican. I can't get over republican women. Don't they realize that if these conservative types had their way that they wouldn't be voting? Or black republicans. Or non-Cuban hispanic republicans.

I am happy to work in technology. Just as the printing press led to the Enlightenment, when people began to question things like the divine right of kings and the right of small aristocracies to own and control everything, the Internet may lead to a similar but greater revolution, led by the Makers. But, even if we can all make everything we need locally everywhere in the world, the old fat cats will still control the sources of the raw materials. So we can't just opt out and ignore them.

So, Libertarians make big gains. Anarcho-capitalists trying to get us back to the good old days when the robber barons of industry were free to rape and pillage (although I'm sure they are way impressed by the recent financial manipulations of Wall Street that led to the housing collapse). A menace? Completely. A far worse threat to the future of America and the world than any terrorist threat I can think of.

Source materials:
Even farther right than you thought.
Presenting the Koch Brothers!

A New Heuristic

I think I have formulated a new heuristic for selecting reading material: avoid add-ons to an existing popular corpus. I just finished "The Children of Hurin", by J.R.R. Tolkien (and his son Christopher). Not as disjointed as "The Silmarillion", but very stilted in its narrative style. Not quite sure what the moral was. The bad guy (Sauron's old boss) curses the family of the main characters, curse seems to work pretty well ?!?!?

I also read two of the follow-up Dune trilogies. Really schlocky. Not that I don't mind schlock -- I still read graphic novels (aka comic books) -- but there's schlock, and then there's schlock. One thing that made most of Frank Herbert's novels so good what that, under the covers, they were about evolution. Completely lost in the follow-ups -- of which there are now two more. Also, they were prequels, which seem to obsess in making sure to fill any questions that one might have had in the originals. So you wind up with checking things off a list rather then getting a decent narrative.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kingbird in the City

Had a couple of titmice at our birdbath this morning (titmouse is German for "small bird"). I also saw what looked like a kingbird. I see those fairly often out on the country roads, but I've never seen one in the city.

Now that I think of it, tho, it might have been a junco. About time for them to be showing up. But, I think it was bigger than a junco. I'm holding out for kingbird.

Biked to High Bridge Park today. Headwinds heading out, so, mercifully, tailwinds coming back. Tried to check-in on FB from the park, but the signal from AT&T was too weak. Took a long-cut back: west on KY 1268 from downtown Wilmore, south on US 68 to KY 33, KY 33 back to Troy. 43.2 miles, 3h32m. I stood up 20 minutes from home to stretch and the bottoms of both my quads tried to cramp. Must have been more dehydrated than last time I biked. That may have been the last time biking for this year.

Weather was crazy. High of 68 today. A brutal hot summer transitioning into a long warm fall by way of 3 months of drought. The trees seem confused. Lots of stretches where all the leaves are down, others where leaves are still green.

An additional note:

Coming down a hill at about 25 mph on KY 1268, the wind almost blew me over. I really am getting too old for biking on these country roads. My plan is to bike until I get a serious injury. Hmmm, surely there's a better way to know when I should quit?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Zero History

"Zero History" is William Gibson's latest. He once again turns to the modern world of "Pattern Recognition" and "Spook Country", where he somehow is able to make anti-marketing fashion trends seem numinous and liminal. These are his best books since "Neuromancer" in 1984.

There were at least a couple of dozen places where Gibson's surreal metaphors and turn of phrase made me laugh out loud. I almost wanted to be kind of live-blogging as I read it and capturing them.

One of the main characters is a recovering drug addict (diazepams). He talks about how "when you first get an addiction, it is bright and shiny and makes everything more interesting. But then it gradually starts making all your decisions, and it has less brain than a goldfish." In terms of the number of neurons involved, that may not be too far off.

He also makes a statement that reading was his gateway drug. Hmmm. I wonder if there is a correlation between liking to get out of the normal world into a book and liking to get out of your normal mind into a drugged state. I saw a headline recently on a correlation between youthful genius and alcoholism in later years, but I didn't read the article.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When the Revolution Comes, They Won't Recognize It

Not quite sure what to make of the "Makers" movement. I have read this blog post several times, and it still does not all seem to be sinking in.

Just as the ease of copying music has wreaked havoc with IP there, the spread of cheap 3D printers and DNA sequencers will also wreak havoc. So many of the concepts of current Intellectual Property and patent law are so outrageous. Like corporations being granted patents for portions of the human genome. Or the ridiculous software patents out there, of which the big software companies file hundreds, which they then grant each other rights to use (or not), essentially freezing small players out or the market.

It will be interesting to see how big pharma, one of the most potent political forces in medicine, reacts when the 3rd world starts cranking out their drugs for pennies on the dollar. Particularly when the drugs are serious lifesavers.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Close But No Cigar

So the Faux News "Outrage of the Day" yesterday was that President Obama's five day trip to India, Indonesia, and Japan was going to cost taxpayers $1 billion dollars!!! And in tough economic times like these!!!

Faux based this figure on five days times $200 million a day, a number which came from an Indian newspaper.

The only problem is, that number is high by a factor of 20. The real number is more like $10 million a day, for a $50 million total.

Wow, off by a factor of 20. Not very close, no sir, not very close at all. How embarassing. I bet Faux News is going to go to great lengths to let its viewers know how badly it misinformed them.

Or not.

Compression Algorithms Redux

So quite a while ago, I did a post that computed the amount of storage to snapshot the state of a human brain at 10,000 terabytes -- now known as 10 petabytes. I posted that number to Charlie Stross's blog -- which has some really good discussions -- and someone commented, "But surely you'd compress the data."


The state of a brain is obviously highly compressible. And, the deltas to that state, when you turn the snapshot into a movie, ditto. So my prediction is that, whoever first comes up with the most efficient and natural algorithm for compressing brain state will be the first to achieve hard AI.

Almost five years ago, in a book review I had posted "Theories Are Compression Algorithms". And, more and more, I think that compression algorithms might be What It's All About (as opposed to the hokey-pokey).

It is somewhat reminiscent of another old post "The Universe Is Information", talking about Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science", and its premise: that the base substance of the universe is information, and all physical processes are computations.

This had led me to kind of conclude that the smallest system that could simulate the universe was the universe itself -- seems somewhat self evident. But, with compression algorithms, that might no longer be the case. Via data compression, we can conceivably describe the state of the universe in an amount of matter considerably smaller than the entire universe.

But if we do that, then the versions of ourselves in the simulation could presumably use compression algorithms and model their state, and so on ad infinitum. Or could they? Would the laws of, what, information processing (???), be different in the simulated universe?

Back in the day, I had pictured our pulsating universe as a wavicle in a larger universe, and each wavicle in our universe as its own pulsating universe, going up and down for say 10^640 or so levels, but with the snake biting its tail so that there is no top or bottom (or more importantly, no privileged frame). Now we can picture that same model, but with compression algorithms on the information of the universe as the mechanism of how we move down to the next level. Hmmm.