Another Quora Answer

July 29th, 2020

I couldn’t resist answering this:

If you’re from a country that was colonized in the past, how do your people feel about the countries who once were rulers? How do the Vietnamese feel about French, Brazil about Portugal, etc.? 

In the land where I was born, sadly none of the original inhabitants appear to have survived colonization by the Britons. But when those Britons were colonized by the Romans, although some of them may have resented both the exploitation of their resources and the loss of their Druidic culture, others saw the banning of human sacrifice and cannibalism as having a bit of an upside – and some of them also came to appreciate all the roads and baths. Indeed, after the Romans left, they sought to maintain aspects of Roman culture (including eventually its new “Christian” religion) but unfortunately they were invaded again – many times.

Some came as colonists, others as pillagers, and others as outside rulers. For many years the land was ruled by Saxon kings, who were themselves from time to time subject to imperial control and/or taxation by the Danes. Eventually many of the people came to appreciate the relative peace and order of Saxon hegemony, but sadly (for some) this was not to last.

In 1066 the land was invaded again, this time by Normans via France, and the Saxon ruling class was largely terminated (often with extreme predjudice). The people now had to deal with rulers who spoke a foreign tongue – calling oxen “boeuf” and sheep “mouton”, but eventually they came to enjoy a bit of mutton pie even if they were not important enough to become Beefeaters. By all accounts, rule by the Normans was pretty harsh for many years, but eventually most people got over it and some even started to identify with the new aristocracy, which became diluted by interbreeding with locals (and also had its headship outsourced to Dutch and German families). Others however did not – and that is part of the problem with this question.

So how do “the” British people feel now about their Italian, Saxon, Scandinavian, French, Dutch and currently German rulers? Well, as I suspect is also true of all the other examples mentioned in the question, there are many answers. Some care, others don’t. A few even still mourn the loss of Druidic culture, and a lot more still resent the class-based system that descended from the cruel Norman aristocracy, but most just live in the present as they find it, and work for change to improve the future rather than to recapture the past. And most of the people who I choose to associate with think of themselves just as people rather than as part of a people.

Missing the Obvious?

July 24th, 2020

A recent Aeon Essay asks If language began in the hands, why did it ever leave? but do anthropologists really fixate on deciding which kind of communication came first while ignoring the obviously most likely alternative?

Surely the utility of vocalization for attracting attention and gesture for directing it have always been linked in the evolving communication strategies of every organism with the capacity for making sounds.

And when it comes to humans the pressure to advance both together has always been strong. Whining and begging are more effective together than either alone, and yelling “tiger” and pointing will save more lives than either a purely vocal or purely gestural approach. So it is not surprising that evolution has provided a deep link between the two modes. But it is as important to keep eyes ahead while running in a pack to chase down prey as it is to avoid texting while driving. So I am not surprised that strategic instructions such as “you go left while I go right” came to be delivered vocally rather than by hand signal. (And the article’s reference to silence during hunting is bizarre. Although an individual might have needed silence to surprise a frog or grouse, that type of hunting is usually solitary, and our group hunting style of chasing to exhaustion might well have been enhanced by making a lot of noise.)

Biden Boldly Bids For “Most Stupid” Title

July 23rd, 2020

Seriously! Is this really a contest about which party can nominate the most fucking stupid idiot for the leadership of the most powerful military machine on the planet? Biden Claims Trump Is The First Racist President | HuffPost Canada .  Who the fuck could say something so fucking stupid after (presumably) having been exposed to some minimal level of education about the history of the USA? Fuck! (Did I say that already? Well in case you missed it Fuck! Fuck!! Fuck!!!)

“I Thought It Was a Hoax”

July 13th, 2020

No comment needed

Source: Man, 30, Dies After Attending a ‘Covid Party,’ Texas Hospital Says – The New York Times

Not Getting the Message

July 10th, 2020

Source: Navigating Race-Based Data: Intersections of Health through COVID-19 – SFU Public Square – Simon Fraser University

Haven’t these people got the message that race doesn’t exist? That it’s not a scientific topic and that there is no conceivable biological difference between populations that have been substantially separated for millennia and somehow happen to have easily identified distinct superficial features (which are really just culturally defined and definitely NOT of biological origin)?

What if? 

July 9th, 2020

Source: If nuclear power had taken off – What if nuclear power had taken off in the 1970s? | The World If | The Economist

Black Achilles

July 7th, 2020

The reissue of this Aeon Essay prompted a couple of thoughts.

First the Greeks, like the Egyptians, were surrounded by peoples of both darker and lighter complexion. To the North they had the startlingly white Northern barbarians and to the South there were Ethiopians and other dark skinned people. Since there is no point in fetishising a characteristic that you don’t yourself extremize, there was no reason for the Greeks to value whiteness. So it’s not surprising that they didn’t. But to say that this shows they were blind to race is preposterous. The very article which is attempting to make that claim is full of references by the Greeks to visible and other characteristics of other (often “lower”) cultures (including the whiteness of the Slavs, from whose treatment by the Romans the relationship between their name and that of the “peculiar institution” is, of course, derived).

Who’s NOT Wrong About Free Will?

June 16th, 2020

George Ellis, Emeritus Professor of Complex Systems and Applied Mathematics, co-author of Stephen Hawking, and (IMO less auspiciously) winner of the 2004 Templeton Prize for reconciling science and religion has written a recent Aeon Essay explaining “why so many physicists are wrong about free will”, and has received an unsolicited rebuttal from Jerry Coyne. I haven’t yet read Coyne’s response but here’s my response to Ellis:

I have two comments.
The first is that the top down effect of my thought processes on subsequent mental activities and actions does not preclude the possibility of purely causal and/or random dependence of those thought processes on earlier purely physical factors. (Even if perhaps through a long chicken and egg sequence of immediately prior physical brain factors depending on earlier thoughts depending on earlier physical factors back to the moment of my first awakening – but never with any need to introduce anything other than purely causal and/or random explanations)
The second, and in my opinion more important objection is to your pessimistic conclusion that without something other than deterministic causality and pure randomness “We wouldn’t be accountable in any meaningful way” and “responsibility wouldn’t enter into the picture”. Since you have not established with any certainty that there is anything other than deterministic causality and pure randomness, that would indeed be a devastating conclusion. But fortunately we can be grateful that it is false. Not because we are not largely deterministic, but rather because we are.
The key is in the word “responsibility” which, interpreted on the basis of its structure, suggests ability to respond to a correction. This justifies censure and even maybe punishment, not on the basis of some abstract divine judgement, but because they work. And they work because we do respond to stimuli in some at least partly predictable way.

A Message to Canada’s Economic Recovery Committee 

June 4th, 2020

Let’s Not be Afraid to Tax the Rich

Dear Ministers Chrystia Freeland, Jonathan Wilkinson, Steven Guilbeault, Navdeep Bains, Melanie Joly, Seamus O’Regan, and Mary Ng,

The high top marginal tax rates that followed the two great world wars of the 20th century led to periods of unprecedented economic growth and improvement in living standards for all, while subsequent reductions led to periods of depression and gross inequity- which have been continuing ever more dramatically since the turn of this century. The current regime of runaway wealth inequality in Canada has left gaping holes in our social safety net — holes that COVID19 exposed, and that our most vulnerable are at risk of falling through. And while the need for social support and other expenditures is increasing to wartime levels, the revenue from taxes on earned income is decreasing.

Billionaires are becoming richer during the pandemic while everyday Canadians struggle to get by — and while those of us who rely on earned income pay more than our fair share in taxes, the wealthy pay little. Whatever taxes are collected fall more heavily on middle class wage earners than on the holders of accumulated capital (which is often inherited rather than earned in any way at all – either by labour, or by sensible risk-taking and wise investment).

It is time now to change the tax system so as to transfer the burden onto those who can most afford it (and who are benefiting most from the production of our economy) – and to ensure that unearned wealth and income are taxed at least as much as any other.

I therefore urge you to raise the marginal income tax rates and include all forms of income including especially unearned income such as gifts and inheritances as taxable income in the year received — and to implement an emergency wealth tax on Canada’s ultra rich to handle the costs of this immediate crisis.

Sincerely,

Alan Cooper
V5Z1Z2

Source: Send a message to Canada’s economic recovery committee to demand a wealth tax now | Leadnow.ca

More Thoughts on UBI

May 31st, 2020

The main problem with Universal Basic Income proposals is that there are so many of them, and they are so completely different from one another, that the term is no longer meaningful. But the current need for governments to distribute large sums of money to mitigate the impacts of COVID does open the door to asking for more of the same kind of income support in order to address both current and future losses of employment, and to finding additional sources of revenue to pay for it.

Three questions that could be asked about any such proposal:

  • How universal is it?
  • How “basic” is it?
  • Where does the money come from?

Does “universal” mean a universal improvement (in particular being provided without clawbacks, and in addition to rather than in place of current levels of support for people with extra needs)? Does the proposed “basic” income really provide an acceptable standard of living for all, or as a sole source of income would it still leave people in grinding poverty? And does it come from some additional source of revenue, or is it just a repackaging of existing social programmes including medicare, public education, transit etc.?

To my mind what we really need would be better identified as a Universal Fair Inheritance and it should reflect the right of every person to the profits from an approximately equal share of all the world’s capital – or at least of that 99.99% of it which arises from the work and invention of previous generations. Anything short of this is just like putting bandaids on severed limbs, or on the wounds felt walking towards a constantly firing machine gun, and debating the relative merits of current proposals is like arguing about whether it’s best to apply the bandaids sideways or front-to-back across the broken ends.

So let’s get real, and always make the “unrealistic” demand! But because it’s widely considered “unrealistic”, the demand alone will not suffice. What we need to do is provide a way of meeting it.

I have two.

One is the Jacobin/Bolshevik solution. Kill all those who we find guilty of hoarding wealth (or of sympathizing with them, or of lacking commitment to the revolution, or of just looking as if they might lack such commitment, or of…..etc) and redistribute that wealth among whomever is left. It’s not impossible! It’s been done more than twice. But it is often met with resistance, and there may be other reasons for it not to be the preferred solution.

My second solution may be slower and less satisfying to those in resentful penury, but it may be easier for others to accept (especially if presented as the only alternative to the former). It doesn’t preclude a smallish further grab by way of a (progressive) tax on assets, but the main idea is to heavily tax large inheritances. How heavily? Well why not just tax them as income in the year received? And in order to avoid avoidance of the tax by way of pre-death gifts (but also just because it makes sense anyway), why not also tax gifts of any kind as income in the year they are received? Indeed why do we think it perfectly natural to tax income that is earned through honest labour more heavily than unearned income of every kind?

Q: What? You want to tax my children on their birthday toys?

A: Only if their combined value in one year exceeds the income tax exemption of a normal person.

Q: But what about the injustices that people are facing now?

A: By all means keep on asking for bandaids, but let’s include in every bandaid campaign a call for Universal Fair Inheritance  to be paid for by new truly progressive taxes not just on workers wages but also (and in fact especially) on unearned income (such as inheritances, gifts, and sinecures). We could call it the Fair Inheritance Tax – I think that’s only fitting.

 

Source: What’s Wrong with Yang’s UBI Proposal? « alQpr

So Fucking Smart!

May 29th, 2020

Yes! Let’s punish the people of Hong Kong for resisting CCP control Source: Trump Moves to Strip Hong Kong of Special U.S. Relationship – The New York Times

Poinsot Construction

May 29th, 2020

(With more attention to scanning Carroll’s reflections than to reflecting physics’ conjections)

The polehode rolls on the herpolhode,  slipless in the invariable plane.

And when it slips the herpolpode quips “That’s non-holonomic to me”

But asymmetric jax-es flip intermediate ax-es, and quimbling experts explain

That the spunracket rode in an unstable mode as any spacecaptain could see.

Source: Poinsot Construction via Alejandro-Jenkins on What-is-the-most-difficult-concept-to-grasp-in-physics  (and this video)

Let’s all use “it”

May 21st, 2020
A friend just passed on for comment this piece from last summer where New York Times opinionist Farhad Manjoo says:
It’s Time for ‘They’The singular “they” is inclusive and flexible, and it breaks the stifling prison of gender expectations. Let’s all use it.

But I think it better to go with the second sentence of his subtitle.

There is good reason for distinguishing between singular and plural references and we already have a perfectly good genderless singular pronoun. So why not use it?

In English it may at first sound heartless to refer to people in the same way as we do things, but the French and others have always done the opposite (which by reflexiveness of equality is of course the same).

Sky News weighs in on ‘Planet Human'(sic)

May 11th, 2020

The movie has serious flaws but I am glad I watched it because it also raises some legitimate questions. Unfortunately those questions are not addressed in this POS review which, on the contrary, picks up on and endorses some of the most egregious misrepresentations in the film. It remains to be seen whether the legitimate questions or the egregious misrepresentations will gain the more exposure over time, but that smug and smarmy Andrew Bolt at Sky News can always be counted on to be on the wrong side of the good vs evil balance.

Total mortality reveals uncounted Covid deaths

April 29th, 2020

The New York Times pretty much copied this: Covid-19 data – Tracking covid-19 excess deaths across countries | Graphic detail | The Economist

Life in a ‘Coronavirus Hotel’

April 29th, 2020

This is not quite what I suggested in my “modest proposal” of March 16 but it does have some of the same elements.

Addendum (suggested by my friend John Butler)

To the tune of Hotel California and with apologies to The Eagles:

Welcome to the Hotel COVID-19
Such a lovely place (for a virus chase)
A mask for your face,
Plenty of room at the Hotel COVID-19
Any time of year (a Corona beer,
You can get it here).

Planet of the Humans 

April 28th, 2020

The over-the-top reaction of Elizabeth May made it certain that I would have to actually watch this.

And I’m not sorry I did.

The main messages (which bizzarely the very poor Guardian reviewer almost completely missed in a relatively favourable review) are that there will not be any solution to the various problems of human impact until we defuse the population bomb and that any technology which might help but can be misused for profit will be so misused in the context of a “free market” capitalist system.

Like much of Moore’s work (but also unfortunately also just like much of the work of those who are now squealing like stuck pigs), the film is polemical and manipulative to a fault, and crosses the boundary into dishonesty at various points. The fact that, as a ten year project, it includes much that is out of date, is not in and of itself a failing, but the movie’s failure to acknowledge changes that happened several years ago is one. For example Bill McGibben’s endorsement of biofuels was reversed several years ago – well after he was first challenged on the topic by Gibbs, but long before the movie actually came out. And I don’t think that acknowledging this would have reduced the impact of using biofuels as an example of how easy it is to overlook hidden weaknesses (especially ones involving vulnerability to abuse for profit) and pick a wrong horse when desperate for a techno-fix.

Another failing is the confounding of environmental impact of construction and back-up of one energy source with that of the fuelling of another. Just because there is such an impact does not necessarily negate the benefit of a proposed alternative. But the need to properly account for ALL impacts has often been ignored by the proponents of “climate friendly” alternatives.

The smug and smarmy manner of Ozzie Zehner playing “gotcha” with solar and wind projects doesn’t help matters (but he seems a lot less offensive in the live chat session that accompanied the movie’s release)

Anyhow, what I find most interesting about all this is the lengths to which people will go to make it all about them and miss the very clear actual point of the exercise.

An Interesting Experiment

April 19th, 2020

I suppose there will be some value in future to having the knowledge of exactly how much harm one person can do in a situation like this.

Source: Trump Encourages Protest Against Governors Who Have Imposed Virus Restrictions – The New York Times

Canada Letter: How can it happen here?

April 18th, 2020

ThisNew York Times ‘Canada Letter’ is a welcome contribution to the exposure of the evils of private care facilities.

My only problem with the article is Susan Bartlett’s reference to reticence about complaining out of “deference for our health care system”. These loathsome private facilities are not part of Canada’s public health care system, but rather have been allowed to encroach on and exploit that system by right wing politicians eager to turn that system into an American-style profit generation machine. (And indeed when Bartlett first did her research the situation may have been different, as there are many cases of former public and non-profit facilities having been bought out or forced into management contracts with private for-profit operators.) I’d say such things should happen only “over my dead body” but sadly am reaching the age where that is becoming more and more likely.

Part of the Problem

April 11th, 2020

In political arguments (especially in a democracy) there is a tendency to value quantity over quality. We are all have good reason to be afraid of alienating potential supporters, and as a result sometimes we are slow to reject even the most evil of allies – let alone to quibble against well-intentioned but invalid arguments. However, that is where I come in.

Nick Malik’s answer to the Quora question: If the participation of Hunter Biden in the Burisma board of directors could be a case of corruption, why is it not investigated in a regular US court? is a case in point.

Malik skips the opportunity to use the lack of prosecution as evidence for the claim that whatever investigation was done found nothing illicit, and chooses instead to “prove” the absence of corruption among the Bidens by arguing that it would be impossible for Hunter to offer anything to the Ukrainians because he was just a private citizen with no elected office – an argument which is, of course, clearly wrong (and which, if accepted, would also “prove” the innocence of Trump in the face of our current awful “witch hunt”).

It may seem necessary to some to respond to a false claim by “proving” that it is impossible rather than merely false, but by basing one’s defense on an excessively strong claim one becomes vulnerable to any arguments against the stronger claim; and furthermore, by relying on an indefensible position one also creates doubt as to the existence of a more robust but less remote defense.

Some of today’s anti racists, climate defenders, and so on strike me as like knights defending an impregnable castle who decide to defend it by running to an outer wooden stockade. But when the stockade is breached there is noone back at the castle.