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A book about one of the trends shaping the 21st century: the next industrial revolution (robots)

29 December 2013

Summary:  It’s not too soon to prepare your 2014 reading list. Today we have an excerpt from what might be one of the most important books of the year, about a trend which will drive events in the 21st century — the next wave of automation. AKA the rise of smart machines, the next industrial revolution. Distributing its fruits might be the defining political challenge for each society, with almost unimaginable rewards for nations that do so peacefully.

Robot Revolution

RobotRevolution by PackRatGraphics



  1. The Book
  2. Excerpt: about the next Age
  3. Reviews
  4. About the authors
  5. For More Information

(1)  The Book

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (2014) — “Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies”

A revolution is under way.

In recent years, Google’s autonomous cars have logged thousands of miles on American highways and IBM’s Watson trounced the best human Jeopardy! players. Digital technologies — with hardware, software, and networks at their core — will in the near future diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors can, apply enormous data sets to transform retailing, and accomplish many tasks once considered uniquely human.

In The Second Machine Age MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee—two thinkers at the forefront of their field — make the case that we should be optimistic about the future because technological progress, ‘the only free lunch that economists believe in,’ is accelerating quickly past our intuitions and expectations. But we should also be mindful of our values and our choices: as technology races ahead, it may leave a lot of people, organizations and institutions behind.

This is the book that explains the new age we’re quickly heading into and shows why we should be optimistic about it, yet also discusses the challenges it will bring.

(2)  Excerpt from Chapter One

This work led us to three broad conclusions.

The first is that we’re living in a time of astonishing progress with digital technologies — those that have computer hardware, software, and networks at their core. These technologies are not brand-new; businesses have been buying computers for more than half a century, and Time magazine declared the personal computer its “Machine of the Year” in 1982.

But just as it took generations to improve the steam engine to the point that it could power the Industrial Revolution, it’s also taken time to refine our digital engines. We’ll show why and how the full force of these technologies has recently been achieved and give examples of its power. “Full,” though, doesn’t mean “mature.” Computers are going to continue to improve and to do new and unprecedented things. By “full force,” we mean simply that the key building blocks are already in place for digital technologies to be as important and transformational to society and the economy as the steam engine.

In short, we’re at an inflection point — a point where the curve starts to bend a lot — because of computers. We are entering a second machine age.

Read more…

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Is grassroots organizing a snare or magic bullet for the reform of America?

26 December 2013

Summary:  The term “grassroots” acts as trump in American political debate, evoking immediate obeisance. Too bad it leads to a dead end.  Our love of grassroot organizing, focusing on local communities and local action, makes the 1% smile. They have seen during the past few years how it allows them to continue gaining wealth and power in America with little effective opposition.

The 1% vs the grassroots

Place your bets on the 1% or the grassroots


Today we look at an interview with John Stauber:  “Does the Left Have a Future?

Stauber is an investigative journalist, an author, founder of Center for Media and Democracy, and describes himself as a “public agitator”.
In CounterPunch, 25 December 2013. Hat tip to a comment by Steve H.

I agree with most of what Stauber says, but not this:

“The best way for people to make a difference is to personally work in organizations at the grassroots level around the critical local issues that most affect them…”

It is a common belief. Too bad it is a trap and delusion, on several levels.

(1)  Power is increasingly wielded at the State and National levels

The critical issues that mostly affect people are increasingly decided not by local politics, but at the State and Federal levels. For example, the State government rules in the conflict over Gogebic Taconite’s proposed mine in northern Wisconsin; for details see Charles Pierce’s articles at Esquire: private “security” at work, big money carries the day, profile of a plutocrat.

(2)  National organizations can build local units

Local organizations cannot easily appear across the nation without national sponsorship of some sort. The Tea Party movement shows how national organizations can spark the creation and drive the growth of grassroots organizations (details here). In the other direction, effective and spontaneous organization from the grassroots to a national level only rarely happens — and seldom succeeds.

(3) Relying on bottoms-up growth (local to national) is slow and clumsy

In politics we worship the invisible hand, hoping it will bless our works so that local organizations will spontaneously arise and combine into a force effective on a national scale. We hope in vain. Adam Smith cries at our folly.

Unfortunately, locally based organizations cannot easily or quickly unite to form an effective national organization. Power comes from strong leadership, ample finance, well-conceived doctrine and plans — culminating in coordinated action over years or decades. This requires intelligent design, noticeably absent in the Tea Party and Occupy movements.

Read more…

Good news for Christmas!

25 December 2013

Summary:  For Christmas we take one of our occasional breaks from our steady stream of bad news to deliver some good news.  Regular service will resume tomorrow.  Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to you all!

Christmas peace



  1. A special post about Christmas
  2. A video about Christmas history of America’s military
  3. A holiday reminder about gifts to those who defend America
  4. A real Christmas story, for which we should be grateful
  5. Good news about the world
  6. Posts with good news about America

(1)   A special post about Christmas

From 2011, well worth reading:  I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Marines in WWII.

(2)  A holiday reminder about gifts to those who defend America

(3)  A video about Christmas history of America’s military



(4)  A real Christmas story, for which Americans should be grateful

Here is a Christmas story known to few Americans, which should be read by all:  Washington’s Gift by Thomas Fleming, Wall Street Journal, 24 December 2007 — “Our revolution could have ended in despotism, like so many others.”  Subscription only; an open copy appears at the David Gold website):

There is a Christmas story at the birth of this country that very few Americans know. It involves a single act by George Washington — his refusal to take absolute power — that affirms our own deepest beliefs about self-government, and still has profound meaning in today’s world. To appreciate its significance, however, we must revisit a dark period at the end of America’s eight-year struggle for independence.

Click here to read the rest

Straight talk about the radiation from Fukushima in the ocean

24 December 2013

Summary: As usual, the internet buzzes with fear-mongering about the radiation released from the Fukushima reactors. Here’s a note from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute that puts this in context. It does not address the larger danger of future releases of radioactivity, perhaps on a much larger scale than the initial surge and the leaks since then. See the links at the end for more about the dangers of Fukushima

Radiation trefoil



  1. The good news about the ocean
  2. Bad news for people in Japan
  3. About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
  4. For More Information

(1)  The good news about the ocean

Radioisotopes in the Ocean – What’s there? How much? How long?
By David Pacchioli, Oceanus Magazine, Spring 2013
Published by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute


The release of radioisotopes from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 amounts to the largest-ever accidental release of radiation to the ocean. It came mostly in the form of iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137, the primary radioisotopes released from the reactors, reported Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

All of these substances can cause long-term health problems, said Buesseler, but iodine-131 has a half-life of just eight days and so would be effectively gone from the environment in a matter of weeks. It was cesium-134 and cesium-137, with their half-lives of two and 30 years, respectively, which would remain in the ocean for years and decades to come.

In fact, most of the cesium present in today’s oceans, Buesseler noted, is a remnant of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing conducted by the United States, France, and Great Britain during the 1950s and ’60s. Lesser amounts are attributable to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 and to local sources, such as the dumping of low-level waste from England’s Sellafield nuclear facility into the Irish Sea.

… “Dilution due to ocean mixing should be enough to cause a decrease in concentration down to background levels within a short period of time,” Buesseler told his audience at the Fukushima and the Ocean conference in November 2012. “Yet all the data we have show that measurements around the site remain elevated to this day at up to 1,000 becquerels per cubic meter.”

Read more…

How much did we warm in November?

23 December 2013

Summary:  As the pause in the warming of the world’s surface temperature enters its 17th year, activists hide this by focusing on areas of the world reporting record warm weather (areas with cold weather are un-news). We need not fall for this deceit. NASA funds a monthly report of global temperature measured by satellites — a consistently high-quality data set going back to 1979 (roughly the end of the previous mini-cooling cycle). The truth is out there for people willing to learn it.

Pure alarmist propaganda

Pure alarmist propaganda


  1. Status report: what do satellites tell us about global warming?
  2. The UK Met Office shows the long-term history of warming
  3. Who produces this satellite data & analysis?
  4. About The Elusive Absolute Surface Air Temperature (SAT)
  5. A few key things to remember about global warming!
  6. For More Information

To the right is a typical over-the-top image to arouse fear, about a world now less than one °F warmer than the 30-year average.

(1) Status report: what do satellites tell us about global warming in October 2013?

Satellites provide the most comprehensive and reliable record of the atmosphere’s warming since 1979.

The November 2013 Global Temperature Report
by the Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville
(Blue is cold; red warm}. Click to enlarge.

November 2013 Global Temperature map

Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville

Key points from the report, which show a world that has warmed since 1979, but only slightly (few alarmists know this; fewer admit it):

  • Global composite temperature in November: +0.19°C (0.34°F) above the average for November during 1981-2010.
  • Global climate trend of temperature starting in 16 November 1978: +0.14°C (0.3°F) per decade.
  • Compared to seasonal norms, in November the coolest area on the globe was in northwestern Greenland, where temperatures in the troposphere were about 4.16°C (7.5°F) cooler than normal,
  • The warmest area was in Eastern Antarctica, where tropospheric temperatures were 5.32°C (almost 9.6°F) warmer than seasonal norms.
  • Anomalies are computed per the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recommended method, comparing the current temperatures vs. a 30 year base period ending with the latest decade.

Let’s look at the satellite data since 1979. It shows, very roughly, 2 decades of cool weather, followed by 15 years of warm weather (click to enlarge):

Read more…

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of propaganda, the kind that paints the world we see

22 December 2013

Summary: Today we have a brief fascinating look behind the scenes at the creation of propaganda, the primary tool shaping not just the opinions but the worldview of 21st century Americans. Continuing my pattern of alternating between sides, today’s post looks at an example on the Left.

Lies and Truth


Our elites have discovered our gullibility, and built pretty organizations to exploit it, spinning professionally-produced stories that match our biases and feed our fears. Such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, providing advice to journalists and commentary to the public.

Today we review two articles in which they take us behind the scenes to show the making of climate propaganda.  First, “TV News and Extreme Weather: Don’t Mention Climate Change“,  18 December 2013 — Excerpt:

Dramatic weather-related disasters are ready made for TV news. But what’s not on the screen? The human-made climate change that is affecting, and in some cases exacerbating, that extreme weather.

A new FAIR survey of the national network newscasts (CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News) finds that extreme weather is big news. In the first nine months of 2013,  there were 450 segments of 200 words or more that covered extreme weather: flooding, forest fires, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes and heat waves.

But of that total, just a tiny fraction–16 segments, or 4% of the total–so much as mentioned the words “climate change,” “global warming” or “greenhouse gases.”

… It’s almost as if the altered climate and the weather were happening on two different planets.

What odd definition of extreme weather includes all forms of flooding, forest fires, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes and heat waves? These are all normal weather. The IPCC special report about extreme weather defines it more narrowly:

The occurrence of a value of a weather or climate variable above (or below)a threshold value near the upper (or lower) ends of the range of observed values of the variable. (see Box 3.1 for more detail)

How does F.A.I.R. show a connection between global warming and these incidents of quite normal weather? This second article explains: “Attributing Weather Events to Climate Change Is the Easy Part“, Jim Naureckas (bio here), 14 November 2013 — Excerpt:

Read more…

How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors?

20 December 2013

Summary:   People usually focus on the details of reform, such as the specific policies that if enacted will reform America. But that’s the easy part of the process, and several steps down the road. Instead we should focus on the first steps, such as how to arouse Americans and motivate them to work for reform. Today we try for a different perspective on this task: how to rekindle America’s passionate love of liberty.


“We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

… Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.

— David Hume in A Treatise of Human Nature (1740)


Scores of posts on the FM website provide analysis of the Republic’s ills, its decline and the rise of a New America on its ruins. Just like the articles in scores of hundreds of other websites. I see the problem as our mysteriously broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop). More specifically, our lack of clear sight, our gullibility, our inability to choose strong leaders, to formulate goals and plans to achieve them. these render us ineffectual. We are no longer the unruly, skeptical people that maintained the Republic for its first two centuries.

The comments to these posts prove my analysis to be a dead end, similar to the results of others (e.g., Naked a Capitalism, to name one of hundreds or thousands). We producing entertainment, like News at 11.

Why so little effect? As a people we are indifferent to logic (a commonplace in history). More importantly, and a decline from previous generations, we now lack the motivation to change, let alone undertake the great effort required to rebuild the Second Republic — or create a Third. Restoring that motivation is perhaps the first task for those seeking to reform America. No plan, no organization, no goals can succeed without people committed to the project.

Read more…

Today’s indoctrination: “7 ways to shut down a climate change denier”

19 December 2013

Summary: Yesterday’s post gave an example of conservative propaganda, pleasant myths embraced by believers. Today we do the same, but for the Left. Both sides are Americans, with the same vulnerabilities — exploited by our ruling elites to keep us divided and ineffectual.  I believe that reform is impossible while we remain so credulous. That’s a choice that keeps us weak.

Timendi causa est nescire.
— Ignorance is the cause of fear. A useful dynamic, exploited by rulers throughout history.

Ignorance is a choice

To prepare for your family gatherings, let’s rehearse a conversation about climate change. John Rennie (science writer, former Editor of Scientific American; see Wikipedia) provides a helpful script: “7 ways to shut down a climate change denier“, Salon, 18 December 2013 — “Comprehensive rebuttals to contrarians’ pseudo-scientific explanations why global warming is just a myth”.

This was originally published at Scientific American on 30 December 2009.  Showing how the debate has changed, the original title was the slightly less incendiary and condescending “Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense — Evidence for human interference with Earth’s climate continues to accumulate.”

Sample responses are follow each item.

What follows is only a partial list of the contrarians’ bad arguments and some brief rebuttals of them.

Claim 1: Anthropogenic CO2 can’t be changing climate, because CO2 is only a trace gas in the atmosphere and the amount produced by humans is dwarfed by the amount from volcanoes and other natural sources.Water vapor is by far the most important greenhouse gas, so changes in CO2 are irrelevant.

Rennie, thanks for the info. But this is not a view of “the contrarians”. For example, it is not a belief of prominent climate scientists condemned as “deniers” (e.g., Judith Curry, Roger Pielke Sr), or found on the major “skeptic” websites. The people who believe that are in the far corner of the room, with the creationists, conspiracy nuts, communists, and radical libertarians.

Claim 2: The alleged “hockey stick” graph of temperatures over the past 1,600 years has been disproved. It doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of a “medieval warm period” around 1000 A.D. that was hotter than today is. Therefore, global warming is a myth.

Read more…

Propaganda shaping America’s minds. For 2014 resolve not to be fooled!

18 December 2013

Summary:  More examples of our broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA), that makes it difficult for us to see the world clearly and take effective action. I increasingly believe this to be one of the major factors driving the death of the Second Republic, allowing construction of the Plutocratic New America on its ruins. Today we look at examples from the Right (but it afflicts both Left and Right). We can fix this with more skepticism, critical thinking, and shunning of those who lie to us.


The Truth is Out There


  1. The Death Spiral of Liberal States
  2. The bailout of GM was a failure
  3. Being on welfare counts as employed

These are widely circulated lies. I have seen them repeated by smart, educated people. We have to be as careful with what we believe as what we eat. America would be stronger if we had more info-vegans (i.e., highly skeptical people, who push-back against those who tell us lies).

(1)  The Death Spiral of Liberal States

“These 11 States now have More People on Welfare than they do Employed! And Surprise-Surprise!!! These States vote straight democrat ticket every election – living on the government plantation.”

A commonplace tale on Right-wing chain emails and blogs. Repeatedly debunked as false on several levels. See the analysis by the estimable Snopes (should be bookmarked on your PC), and another at PoliFact-Texas.

(2)  The bailout of GM was a failure

Many on the Right-wing continue to say this, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. See Dana Milbank at the Washington Post for the facts.

(3)  Being on welfare counts as employed

“One of the reasons the reported unemployment rate isn’t higher is that the State of California’s statistically considers all 1,427,000 welfare recipients to be “employed.”
— By Chriss Street at The American Thinker, 14 December 2013

Read more…

What are the big questions that 2014 might answer?

17 December 2013

Summary:  December brings forth a crop of retrospective analysis about the past year and confident forecasts about the next. The FM website has posted almost daily doses of the former, and I lack the confidence to do the latter. Instead let’s ask about questions. What issues might dominate 2014, and influence the years beyond? Finding the right questions can help us open our minds to the unexpected, and perhaps even prepare for it. Post your questions in the comments.

Question Mark #1

“Uncertainty … is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.”
— From the introduction to A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (1945)


  1. Effects of the taper?
  2. Results from Abenomics?
  3. The War on Terror?
  4. The global warming campaign?
  5. For More Information

(1)  The taper

What effect will normalizing monetary policy (slowing QE3 being the first step) have on the economy? Will it slow the economy? Will it depress asset prices? Will it boost interest rates, perhaps ruinously? If it ends badly, will it decrease public confidence in the Federal Reserve, perhaps in economists?

Also, how strong are the deflationary forces at work? Inflation has fallen during QE3, despite credit and GDP growth, with little change in the value of the US dollar. That’s an anomaly (much of my forecasting success comes from attention to anomalies ignored by the consensus). What happens to inflation as QE3 ends? Do we get the widely predicted inflationary hangover, or lapse into deflation?

Click here to see posts about the taper.

(2)  Abenomics

There were to be three arrows:

  • double the money supply in two years,
  • boost the fiscal stimulus (borrow and spend even more),
  • structural reform.

So far the government has fired the first two arrows, but not the third and most important one. The arrows were to produce:

  • increased real wages,
  • increased inflation (specifically, core inflation; not just increased cost of imports) with flattish interest rates,
  • increased volume of exports (using the lower value of the Yen to gain market share, not just increase profits),
  • a more efficient Japan (from the combination of faster growth, more investment, and reform).

The results to date are zero out of four. Wages are falling; real wages are falling even faster. Import prices are rising, but not other prices. Export volumes are not up strongly (+4.4% YoY in October). Reforms so far remain only talk.

Read more…


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