Friday, April 03, 2020

The Marching Morons

One of the funniest SF stories, and one that is really scary when you think about it, is The Marching Morons" by Cyril M. Kornbluth.

It's funny because Kornbluth is a great writer. It's chilling because it perfectly captures how our rulers see the ruled. The ending doesn't really make sense, but Kornbluth most probably couln't have sold it (and might not have been able to overcome his own sentimentality) without the comeuppance in the end.

I don't know how the billionaire class, the top 0.01%, feels about the workers. It's likely that they're mostly sociopaths who simply don't see other people (even other billionaires) as people, just as objects.

But I am part of the professional-managerial class, and I know the the PMC in the top 10 or 20%, the ones who do the grunt work of managing the day-to-day operations of society, think that almost everyone not in the PMC are morons, most of whom can be made marginally productive with enough discipline and coercion.

The PMC gets away with feeling this way because workers mostly feel the same way.

The almost in "almost everyone" is the key. Most workers believe that all the other workers — especially workers with trivially lower social or economic status (coughBlack peoplecough)— are morons, but they themselves (and maybe a few of their friends) are the rare exceptions.

Did you lose your job because of the coronavirus quarantine? You don't have any wealth? Well, you must be a moron. Can't get a new job? Then you're not useful: lie down and die get out of my sight, loser.

But I lost my job and have no wealth? Hey, I'm the exception! I'm not a moron! Help me!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Radical conservative stupidity

the stupid! it burns!Coronavirus relief will be used by radical progressives to promote Modern Monetary Theory by JD Rucker.

Oh my.

Probably the stupidest economic part of the article is this:
If we start devaluing it intentionally by pumping too much cash into the system, the rest of the world will bail out within weeks. Then, the national debt will lose it’s perceived support mechanism, forcing countries to demand collection before we devalue their investments artificially.

Collection of what? Countries such as China hold government securities. All they entitle those countries to collect are dollars. We can always print more dollars.

A close second, maybe tied for first, is this
There is no way the government can pay for the recent coronavirus relief bill, but it was deemed necessary to prevent an immediate economic collapse. . . . Unfortunately, the outcome of this will be devastating. The costs accrued during the coronavirus crisis will be stretched out over time in the form of massively adding to the national debt.

Rucker talks about preventing an immediate economic collapse and stretching massive costs out over time as if they were Bad Ideas. But what's the alternative? Allowing an immediate economic crash and incurring massive costs right now... or just not paying the costs of having a hundred million people stay at home or millions dying? Do we just let a hundred million people be evicted from their homes and left to starve or force them to work and let the pandemic spread?

I'm not saying that Rucker would prefer allowing millions of peoples to die to save the "value" of the dollar. But if he did, he would be in good conservative company.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Democratic party is the enemy

I've been saying this since 2007: the Democratic party is the enemy of the people. They are the enemy of the working class, of the precariat, of the people who want to do their jobs and come home to their families.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are parties of the billionaire class. The Republican party is the bad cop, the Democratic party is the good cop, but they both are working for the same thing: to further billionaire class's desperate struggle to keep 80% of the population as poor as possible, as close to slavery as possible.

It's not over till it's over, and perhaps Sanders will pull off the nomination, but it looks like Biden will win.

Biden will lose the general election. He will lose mostly because he is a weak and stupid man, and Trump is at least competent in bullying people who show the slightest hint of weakness.

Biden will lose because he offers nothing to the people who support Sanders, and he offers nothing to the people who support Trump. Even if he were to win — Trump is not a healthy man, and it's possible he drops dead before the election, which is the only way Biden wins — Biden will do everything that Trump is doing, only without the cartoonish buffoonery. Biden will do nothing to improve the life of anyone who is not part of the 1% or their servants in the the top 20%. I absolutely do not care whether he who wields the lash wears a blue shirt or a red shirt.

But Trump will probably not drop dead, and Biden will lose.

And Sanders supporters will be blamed.

For me, I will claim what credit I can for Biden's loss. I will not vote for Biden. If Trump wins because of that, so be it. Yes, failing to support Biden is "objectively" pro-Trump, but supporting Biden is actually and explicitly pro-billionaire.

If the Democratic party wants to win, they must offer working people what we want. Not crumbs, not platitudes, not We're not quite as bad as the Republicans, but real power over our lives, our heath, our homes, our jobs.

We have to face the fact: Trump gives enough people in the working class something they want: if they can't have any real power over their own lives, Trump gives them permission set someone even lower and shit on them even as they're getting shit on by the billionaires.

What does the Democratic party offer the working class? Only this: "We're going to shit on you, just shut up and take it." I won't vote or support the Republicans, because I don't want to shit on anyone else, but I'm not going to support the Democrats because I'm tired of getting shit on and told to like it.

Until the Democratic party wants to, you know, represent us and our interests, I say fuck you. Fuck the horse you rode in on.

I used to say that the Republican party needs to be utterly salt-plowed-in-the-fields destroyed. It still needs to be destroyed, but the Democratic party will not do it. So I say now, the Democratic also must be destroyed. They cannot be saved.

Unless Sanders pulls off a miracle and wins the nomination, I will not vote for any Democrat ever under any circumstances for any office, from President to dog-catcher. And even if Sanders does win the nomination and the presidency, it will take a lot of convincing for me to believe the Democratic party has mended its ways.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Sanders on Castro

Should Bernie Sanders have mentioned Cuba's Castro-era literacy program? I have no idea; I'm not a politician or political advisor. But what precisely did he actually say? Can we infer what he meant?

What did he say?

During the recent Democratic party debate:

SANDERS: What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba; that Cuba made progress on education. Yes, I think....

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: Boo.

SANDERS: Really? Really? Literacy programs are bad.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Yes, because there's no comparing those two...

Examining Bernie Sanders' Comments On Literacy In Castro-Era Cuba

On 60 minutes in the 1980s

Sanders began by saying, “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba,” before adding, “but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.”

“When Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program,” he told journalist Anderson Cooper during the interview. “Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?”

Sanders’s Cuba comments are bad politics

Like I said, bad politics? I dunno. This is what I found; did he say anything else? Let me know in the comments.

It seems perfectly clear that Sanders did not say that the United States should implement literacy programs exactly like Fidel Castro did. He said that just because it was Fidel Castro (whose "authoritarian nature" Sanders explicitly opposes) who did something, i.e. implemented a massive literacy program, does not mean that what he did was bad. This is true.

When I still bothered to talk about socialism with idiots in comment threads and message boards, the refrain was maddeningly consistent: If we do this thing that vaguely resembles something that a communist or socialist did, we will have hyperinflation, social collapse, gulags, and genocidal mass starvation. If we give free milk to poor children, like Chavez did in Venezuela, we will crash our economy. If we expand workers' rights, have government-provided or -controlled health care system, raise the minimum wage, regulate business, etc., well, that's what the socialists did, and look how things turned out for them! If we do any of these things, it will end with hyperinflation, gulags, etc.

It's a transparently bullshit argument.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Boomer Individualism

Boomer Individualism and the Californian Ideology,
A selfish, disingenuous, performative leftism born of base desires for sex, drugs and rock and roll, a rebelliousness against parental and societal restrictions in youth, dovetails perfectly into an adult rebelliousness against financial and governmental regulations and the social strictures of great society era probity with regards to greed.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Richard Feynman on education in Brazil

From Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman:

In regard to education in Brazil, I had a very interesting experience. I was teaching a group of students who would ultimately become teachers, since at that time there were not many opportunities in Brazil for a highly trained person in science. These students had already had many courses, and this was to be their most advanced course in electricity and magnetism – Maxwell’s equations, and so on.

The university was located in various office buildings throughout the city, and the course I taught met in a building which overlooked the bay.

I discovered a very strange phenomenon: I could ask a question, which the students would answer immediately. But the next time I would ask the question – the same subject, and the same question, as far as I could tell – they couldn’t answer it at all! For instance, one time I was talking about polarized light, and I gave them all some strips of polaroid.

Polaroid passes only light whose electric vector is in a certain direction, so I explained how you could tell which way the light is polarized from whether the polaroid is dark or light.

We first took two strips of polaroid and rotated them until they let the most light through. From doing that we could tell that the two strips were now admitting light polarized in the same direction – what passed through one piece of polaroid could also pass through the other. But then I asked them how one could tell the absolute direction of polarization, for a single piece of polaroid.

They hadn’t any idea.

I knew this took a certain amount of ingenuity, so I gave them a hint: “Look at the light reflected from the bay outside.”

Nobody said anything.

Then I said, “Have you ever heard of Brewster’s Angle?”

“Yes, sir! Brewster’s Angle is the angle at which light reflected from a medium with an index of refraction is completely polarized.”

“And which way is the light polarized when it’s reflected?”

“The light is polarized perpendicular to the plane of reflection, sir.” Even now, I have to think about it; they knew it cold! They even knew the tangent of the angle equals the index!

I said, “Well?”

Still nothing. They had just told me that light reflected from a medium with an index, such as the bay outside, was polarized; they had even told me which way it was polarized.

I said, “Look at the bay outside, through the polaroid. Now turn the polaroid.”

“Ooh, it’s polarized!” they said.

After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn’t know what anything meant. When they heard “light that is reflected from a medium with an index,” they didn’t know that it meant a material such as water. They didn’t know that the “direction of the light” is the direction in which you see something when you’re looking at it, and so on. Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words. So if I asked, “What is Brewster’s Angle?” I’m going into the computer with the right keywords. But if I say, “Look at the water,” nothing happens – they don’t have anything under “Look at the water”!

Later I attended a lecture at the engineering school. The lecture went like this, translated into English: “Two bodies… are considered equivalent… if equal torques… will produce… equal acceleration. Two bodies, are considered equivalent, if equal torques, will produce equal acceleration.” The students were all sitting there taking dictation, and when the professor repeated the sentence, they checked it to make sure they wrote it down all right. Then they wrote down the next sentence, and on and on. I was the only one who knew the professor was talking about objects with the same moment of inertia, and it was hard to figure out.

I didn’t see how they were going to learn anything from that. Here he was talking about moments of inertia, but there was no discussion about how hard it is to push a door open when you put heavy weights on the outside, compared to when you put them near the hinge – nothing!

After the lecture, I talked to a student: “You take all those notes – what do you do with them?”

“Oh, we study them,” he says. “We’ll have an exam.”

“What will the exam be like?”

“Very easy. I can tell you now one of the questions.” He looks at his notebook and says, “ ‘When are two bodies equivalent?’ And the answer is, ‘Two bodies are considered equivalent if equal torques will produce equal acceleration.’ “ So, you see, they could pass the examinations, and “learn” all this stuff, and not know anything at all, except what they had memorized.

Then I went to an entrance exam for students coming into the engineering school. It was an oral exam, and I was allowed to listen to it. One of the students was absolutely super: He answered everything nifty! The examiners asked him what diamagnetism was, and he answered it perfectly. Then they asked, “When light comes at an angle through a sheet of material with a certain thickness, and a certain index N, what happens to the light?”

“It comes out parallel to itself, sir – displaced.”

“And how much is it displaced?”

“I don’t know, sir, but I can figure it out.” So he figured it out. He was very good. But I had, by this time, my suspicions.

After the exam I went up to this bright young man, and explained to him that I was from the United States, and that I wanted to ask him some questions that would not affect the result of his examination in any way. The first question I ask is, “Can you give me some example of a diamagnetic substance?”

“No.”

Then I asked, “If this book was made of glass, and I was looking at something on the table through it, what would happen to the image if I tilted the glass?”

“It would be deflected, sir, by twice the angle that you’ve turned the book.”

I said, “You haven’t got it mixed up with a mirror, have you?”

“No, sir!”

He had just told me in the examination that the light would be displaced, parallel to itself, and therefore the image would move over to one side, but would not be turned by any angle. He had even figured out how much it would be displaced, but he didn’t realize that a piece of glass is a material with an index, and that his calculation had applied to my question.

I taught a course at the engineering school on mathematical methods in physics, in which I tried to show how to solve problems by trial and error. It’s something that people don’t usually learn, so I began with some simple examples of arithmetic to illustrate the method. I was surprised that only about eight out of the eighty or so students turned in the first assignment. So I gave a strong lecture about having to actually try it, not just sit back and watch me do it.

After the lecture some students came up to me in a little delegation, and told me that I didn’t understand the backgrounds that they have, that they can study without doing the problems, that they have already learned arithmetic, and that this stuff was beneath them.

So I kept going with the class, and no matter how complicated or obviously advanced the work was becoming, they were never handing a damn thing in. Of course I realized what it was: They couldn’t do it!

One other thing I could never get them to do was to ask questions. Finally, a student explained it to me: “If I ask you a question during the lecture, afterwards everybody will be telling me, ‘What are you wasting our time for in the class? We’re trying to learn something. And you’re stopping him by asking a question’.”

It was a kind of one-upmanship, where nobody knows what’s going on, and they’d put the other one down as if they did know. They all fake that they know, and if one student admits for a moment that something is confusing by asking a question, the others take a high-handed attitude, acting as if it’s not confusing at all, telling him that he’s wasting their time.

I explained how useful it was to work together, to discuss the questions, to talk it over, but they wouldn’t do that either, because they would be losing face if they had to ask someone else. It was pitiful! All the work they did, intelligent people, but they got themselves into this funny state of mind, this strange kind of self-propagating “education” which is meaningless, utterly meaningless!

At the end of the academic year, the students asked me to give a talk about my experiences of teaching in Brazil. At the talk there would be not only students, but professors and government officials, so I made them promise that I could say whatever I wanted. They said, “Sure. Of course. It’s a free country.”

So I came in, carrying the elementary physics textbook that they used in the first year of college. They thought this book was especially good because it had different kinds of typeface – bold black for the most important things to remember, lighter for less important things, and so on.

Right away somebody said, “You’re not going to say anything bad about the textbook, are you? The man who wrote it is here, and everybody thinks it’s a good textbook.”

“You promised I could say whatever I wanted.”

The lecture hall was full. I started out by defining science as an understanding of the behavior of nature. Then I asked, “What is a good reason for teaching science? Of course, no country can consider itself civilized unless… yak, yak, yak.” They were all sitting there nodding, because I know that’s the way they think.

Then I say, “That, of course, is absurd, because why should we feel we have to keep up with another country? We have to do it for a good reason, a sensible reason; not just because other countries do.” Then I talked about the utility of science, and its contribution to the improvement of the human condition, and all that – I really teased them a little bit.

Then I say, “The main purpose of my talk is to demonstrate to you that no science is being taught in Brazil!”

I can see them stir, thinking, “What? No science? This is absolutely crazy! We have all these classes.”

So I tell them that one of the first things to strike me when I came to Brazil was to see elementary school kids in bookstores, buying physics books. There are so many kids learning physics in Brazil, beginning much earlier than kids do in the United States, that it’s amazing you don’t find many physicists in Brazil – why is that? So many kids are working so hard, and nothing comes of it.

Then I gave the analogy of a Greek scholar who loves the Greek language, who knows that in his own country there aren’t many children studying Greek. But he comes to another country, where he is delighted to find everybody studying Greek – even the smaller kids in the elementary schools. He goes to the examination of a student who is coming to get his degree in Greek, and asks him, “What were Socrates’ ideas on the relationship between Truth and Beauty?” – and the student can’t answer. Then he asks the student, “What did Socrates say to Plato in the Third Symposium?” the student lights up and goes, “Brrrrrrrrr-up” – he tells you everything, word for word, that Socrates said, in beautiful Greek.

But what Socrates was talking about in the Third Symposium was the relationship between Truth and Beauty!

What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something. To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students can understand.

I said, “That’s how it looks to me, when I see you teaching the kids ‘science’ here in Brazil.” (Big blast, right?)

Then I held up the elementary physics textbook they were using. “There are no experimental results mentioned anywhere in this book, except in one place where there is a ball, rolling down an inclined plane, in which it says how far the ball got after one second, two seconds, three seconds, and so on. The numbers have ‘errors’ in them – that is, if you look at them, you think you’re looking at experimental results, because the numbers are a little above, or a little below, the theoretical values. The book even talks about having to correct the experimental errors – very fine. The trouble is, when you calculate the value of the acceleration constant from these values, you get the right answer. But a ball rolling down an inclined plane, if it is actually done, has an inertia to get it to turn, and will, if you do the experiment, produce five-sevenths of the right answer, because of the extra energy needed to go into the rotation of the ball. Therefore this single example of experimental ‘results’ is obtained from a fake experiment. Nobody had rolled such a ball, or they would never have gotten those results!

“I have discovered something else,” I continued. “By flipping the pages at random, and putting my finger in and reading the sentences on that page, I can show you what’s the matter – how it’s not science, but memorizing, in every circumstance. Therefore I am brave enough to flip through the pages now, in front of this audience, to put my finger in, to read, and to show you.”

So I did it. Brrrrrrrup – I stuck my finger in, and I started to read: “Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the light emitted when crystals are crushed…”

I said, “And there, have you got science? No! You have only told what a word means in terms of other words. You haven’t told anything about nature – what crystals produce light when you crush them, why they produce light. Did you see any student go home and try it? He can’t.

“But if, instead, you were to write, ‘When you take a lump of sugar and crush it with a pair of pliers in the dark, you can see a bluish flash. Some other crystals do that too. Nobody knows why. The phenomenon is called “triboluminescence.” ‘ Then someone will go home and try it. Then there’s an experience of nature.” I used that example to show them, but it didn’t make any difference where I would have put my finger in the book; it was like that everywhere.

Finally, I said that I couldn’t see how anyone could be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything. “However,” I said, “I must be wrong. There were two Students in my class who did very well, and one of the physicists I know was educated entirely in Brazil. Thus, it must be possible for some people to work their way through the system, bad as it is.”

Well, after I gave the talk, the head of the science education department got up and said, “Mr. Feynman has told us some things that are very hard for us to hear, but it appears to be that he really loves science, and is sincere in his criticism. Therefore, I think we should listen to him. I came here knowing we have some sickness in our system of education; what I have learned is that we have a cancer!” – and he sat down.

That gave other people the freedom to speak out, and there was a big excitement. Everybody was getting up and making suggestions. The students got some committee together to mimeograph the lectures in advance, and they got other committees organized to do this and that.

Then something happened which was totally unexpected for me. One of the students got up and said, “I’m one of the two students whom Mr. Feynman referred to at the end of his talk. I was not educated in Brazil; I was educated in Germany, and I’ve just come to Brazil this year.”

The other student who had done well in class had a similar thing to say. And the professor I had mentioned got up and said, “I was educated here in Brazil during the war, when, fortunately, all of the professors had left the university, so I learned everything by reading alone. Therefore I was not really educated under the Brazilian system.”

I didn’t expect that. I knew the system was bad, but 100 percent – it was terrible!

Since I had gone to Brazil under a program sponsored by the United States Government, I was asked by the State Department to write a report about my experiences in Brazil, so I wrote out the essentials of the speech I had just given. I found out later through the grapevine that the reaction of somebody in the State Department was, “That shows you how dangerous it is to send somebody to Brazil who is so naive. Foolish fellow; he can only cause trouble. He didn’t understand the problems.” Quite the contrary! I think this person in the State Department was naive to think that because he saw a university with a list of courses and descriptions, that’s what it was.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Bumbling accumulation of neuroses

Each one of us is just a different bumbling accumulation of neuroses we’ve developed from childhood or adulthood babbling about the three things we’re interested in trying our best to get by. — Brad Evans

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The point of economics

"The point of economics as a discipline is to create a language and methodology for governing that hides political assumptions from the public." -- Matt Stoller

Monday, January 06, 2020

Why neoliberalism is untenable

Let's take the neoliberals at their word: neoliberalism is about using markets to achieve maximum productivity and (maybe) some social democratic ends, while using the power of government to regulate markets and provide what markets cannot. As stated, this idea cannot work because markets contradict government. Neoliberalism calls for freedom and regulation, distribution and centrality, elitism and egalitarianism. At best, neoliberalism simply handwaves over these inherent contradictions; at worst, it is just a cover for libertarianism.

Economists understand that markets have inherent problems that stem from the individualistic competitive nature of markets. First, sellers, both firms selling goods and services and households selling their labor power, have a powerful market incentive to create and maintain monopolies, which economists understand are inefficient. Second, absent the police, it is always easier and cheaper to "cheat" rather than "play fair", and again, the individualistic nature of markets embeds an incentive to cheat. Third, a market economy concentrates and refines the class struggle between rentiers (bourgeoisie) and workers (proletariat), always to the detriment of workers. When markets are used everywhere possible, market competition becomes a life-and-death struggle for everyone, bourgeoisie and proletariat; when everyone's life is on the line, the incentive to monopolize, to cheat, to oppress and enslave others, overwhelms any sense of social or civic value.

Opposing these market incentives, the neoliberals vaguely wave their hands and say, "The government will regulate these markets, break up monopolies, punish cheaters, and protect the proletariat from slavery." But how? Whatever neoliberals think they're trying to do to corral markets for social democratic ends does not seem to be working. Yes, neoliberals can say, with perhaps some deserved pride, that a global markets-in-everything economy has doubled the income of the desperately poor, from \$2 per day to \$4. But it's not enough, and helping the desperately poor shouldn't be mutually exclusive with creating a decent society for working people.

There are, I think, two reasons for this. First, government regulation of a market economy is both as practically difficult and ideologically illiberal as a centrally planned communist economy. Neoliberal economists, like central planners and literally everyone else, are never as smart as they think they. And, fundamentally, any government regulation entails coercing individuals for the sake of the collective. Second, people with political power decide government regulation, and a market economy gives political power to those who can successfully accumulate wealth. Why would such people give up their own power? For the sake of abstract "liberal" principles and altruistic public spirit? Grow the fuck up and re-read Machiavelli.

Libertarians understand these tensions, and, while they dissemble (because why not fool people if fooling them is profitable), they understand that libertarianism is just liberalism without the fuzzy-headed sentimentality. The race may not always be to the swift, nor the battle always to the strong, but it often enough is. If we are going to compete, it makes no sense to punish the winners nor reward the losers.

Do neoliberals understand these tensions? Are they merely better than libertarians as dissimulation? Or are they merely more naive? I don't think it even matters. Liberals — classical and neo- — are either fellow travelers or useful idiots for the right. They are not part of the left.