Complexity kills… computers

big_x

Well, due to a series of unfortunate events, today’s post will be short, due to massive computer issues.

A few good things:

  • We have multiple machines
  • We have backups (some may have been corrupted, however)

If anything, this has taught me to be ever vigilant.   There are some pretty scary things out there in the computer world.

Leadership glitches

Max_Headroom_broadcast_signal_intrusion.jpg

The original glitchy leader, Max Headroom.

In talking about what makes good leaders over these past few weeks here on the peakfuture blog, it still shocks me that our so-called leaders are making so many questionable decisions, and are making decisions that have such bad optics.  It makes you wonder how they got in power in the first place.

A few data points:

Hillary Clinton and the Goldman Sachs speeches – Yes, she may have been trying to raise some cash, but didn’t anybody in her organization think this would look bad?  This issue has been raised a few places, most notably, in the New York Times.  One of the best lines from that article:

After seeing her stumble this week, Mr. Crutchfield said that Mrs. Clinton should be ready to face the question about her fees over and over again, and that her answer of “that’s what they offered” rang hollow. Her staff would probably have negotiated such payments, he said, and Mrs. Clinton could always have given some of the money to charity if she thought she was being paid too much.

“It’s bad framing,” Mr. Crutchfield said. “I don’t know who’s training her, but they should be fired.”

Really – who is advising her?   Not only does it speak badly of the advisors, but of her own judgement.

The recent comments from someone up the food chain (the German president), “The elites are not the problem, the people are the problem.”   You should have been wearing a watch with a sweep second hand to see how fast people started to get together to protest in the streets after hearing that tone deaf comment.  Cue the music, and the attendant violence.

Peggy Noonan’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen”, available here, commenting on the elites, and how they are becoming so different from the rest of us; echoed in others (The Pitchforks are Coming…).

Some obvious advice to anyone in office, or in a position of power:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Realize everyone isn’t as well off as you.  Feeding the homeless at Thanksgiving won’t cut it, in trying to bond with folks less well off, by the way.
  3. Be humble.
  4. Read history.  Realize that yes, it can happen here.

Of course, all this has a proverbial ‘snowball’s chance  in hell’ of getting people to change, but someone, somewhere must be elbowing someone in power, saying “Hey, uh, this course of action may be good in the short run, but in the long run, it’s going to be hell.”

Questions:

  • What other advice would you give to folks up the food chain?
  • What other bonehead moves have you seen recently?
  • What makes these folks so blind?   Are they so immune to history, or is this just a typical reaction of “we know better”?

 

None of the above

NYCvotingbooth.JPG

Dmitry Orlov recently posted a neat idea, that when in the voting booth, vote randomly.   The arguments for this are pretty interesting, and he also gives some other sage advice (no party affiliation, when responding to a poll, say ‘undecided’).

What if we went a step further, though?  With two truly random coin tosses, you will be adding randomly to the tally of Clinton, Trump, Stein or Johnson.   With Stein and Johnson being distant third/third fourth, the effect of this will be boosting their poll numbers.    If 900 out of 1000 voters vote with 400 for Trump, 400 for Clinton, 50 for Stein and 50 for Johnson, we’ve got 100 voters left (44.4% for Trump/Clinton, 5.6% for Stein/Johnson).  If they vote according to the distribution above, out of the remaining 100, 40 voters go for Clinton/Trump, and 10 each for Stein/Johnson).    The percentages stay the same.   If, however, those 100 vote randomly, they add 25 to each vote count, so the percentages become 42.5% for the major candidates, and 7.5% for the minor party candidates.

This makes minority candidates stand out, but doesn’t influence the final details.  Yes, there will be chaos, and yes, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But what if it was possible to send an even more direct message?  What about another option?

The capability exists in most polling places to write in a candidate (this was mentioned by Cortes on Club Orlov in the comments).  What if those 10% of the people who were intent on flipping a coin, wrote in simply “None of the above.”   Flipping a coin is certainly one option, yet writing in your dissatisfaction with the candidates and process might be another way to signal that things are wrong.  With truly random voting, we’ll never know if the independent candidates rallied, or if it was just chance that boosted their poll numbers (of course, this is Dmitry’s point!).

The key here is the as many people as possible write in “None of the above,” so that there isn’t any bias at all – it is simply random, and a statement of protest.  Only the clear message, we aren’t getting quality candidates, needs to be sent.

My own decision is still up in the air.   It’s a mess, for sure, and many don’t like either candidate.

Perhaps the bumper sticker “None of the Above” is one we should have.

Questions:

  • Are these theoretical options just whining (voting randomly, or voting ‘None of the above’)?  Shouldn’t we pick the lesser of the evils?  Winston Churchill, at one point during the war, quipped, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
  • My long standing question has always, always been – who do you want to run, on either side of the aisle, who might even have a passing probability of being elected?
  • If we throw out the ‘probability of being elected’, who else would you nominate?  Besides folks like Amanda Palmer, Dmitry Orlov (he can’t be elected president, being born overseas), John Michael Greer (who probably doesn’t want the job), or any one of the folks who ‘gets’ our resource problem (and who seem to be NOT sociopaths, on the whole), who would you choose?
  • How concerned are you about electronic voting fraud?  There are stories circulating that make you wonder.   If that ever came out as a true, verifiable story, it would shake our nation to the core.
  • When you are in a difficult and bad situation, one way  to analyze things is to ask, “How did we get here?”   Yes, you can cue the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime.  How did we get here?

Better leadership, better leaders

113px-CrownForShield.svg.png

(Wikicommons, in public domain;  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Crowns#/media/File:CrownForShield.svg)

Last week, the idea that non-technocrats, non-lawyers, and ‘regular people’ might make better leaders was put forward, with one particular candidate, Amanda Palmer, although many other folks might also fill these roles as well.  The idea that an artist (or randomly selected individual) might be our next representative, senator, or president may seem a bit odd, but given the strong dislike for the current crop of presidential candidates, and the incredibly low approval ratings for Congress, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch.

A few weeks ago, the concept of a ‘feudal democracy’ was floated; a democracy where all rights that we enjoy in our modern world were balanced with very, very explicit responsibilities.

The big question behind these small essays is this – how can society work and be governed, when its population is significantly larger than Dunbar’s number (where everyone knows everyone else)?  How do we get better leadership, and better leaders, especially when the resources for a democratic republic are limited (and falling) with large populations?

Again, science fiction gives us a few ideas; artificial intelligences running things (like in many an Asimov short story), a hyper-connected virtual congress (like the Althing in the book Hyperion), many kinds of dystopia (1984, Brave New World) or, in some cases, a reversion to hereditary rule (like in the Dune universe).    Sometimes, even democracy can limp along.   Of these scenarios, which is the most likely?  If we think that technology will continue its long trajectory upwards, then any one of the techno-fantasies or horror shows mentioned above might come true.   But as noted in a post here almost a year ago (On Revolution, Again), the technologies for even dystopias may not exist, simply due to resource constraints.   Of all the future leadership possibilities, it may be that hereditary rule of some sort might make a comeback.

What, you say?   We will get kings and queens and dukes and earls and knights and so on?   Well, in our modern world, there are plenty of examples where political families (Kennedy, Bush, Clinton, Roosevelt, etc.) have entrenched themselves in the body politic.   They may not have the titles of baron, count, and so on, but they do have political power, and their families have been influencing government in one way or another for years.

So, political families exist; might they be breeding better leaders?   Some scoff at the idea of breeding humans for character traits, but humans are no different than any other animal.  Is there a gene for good leadership (without sociopathy)?  Or are their dynasties merely a product of having money and connections; politics being only a tool to ensure that their families prosper?

The probability of a techno-future appears to be relatively low, given the projections on resources, pollution, and environment.  Democracy can only seem to work with excess energy available (and it became more widespread as the industrial revolution ramped up).  When excess energy becomes less available, perhaps democracy’s fortunes will fall as well, and the most common form of governance (when excess available energy is low) of large bodies of people, hereditary rule, might return.

Questions:

  • Could we breed for leadership without sociopathy?
  • Would you want to live in society where hereditary rule by humans who actually good at ruling is a fact?   For some, the answer will always be no, like Lucifer’s comment in Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
  • Do democracies/republics do a better job of governing, in the long run?   Of course, we have to define what ‘better’ means!
  • Great Britain has a constitutional monarchy; the Queen (or King) represents the ideal of the country, and even though their power is mostly ceremonial, the figure of the Queen (or King) is generally well respected.   If things get a bit ‘rough around the edges’ in modern life, could these figureheads step up and rule?
  • It is said democracies last until people can vote themselves money from the public treasury.  Perhaps hereditary rule short circuits this?   For those of you who think hereditary rule, or clan rule is a step backwards, check out Poul Anderson’s classic “No Truce With Kings.”

 

 

Why Amanda Palmer matters

afp.jpg

Bear with me, here, for a bit.   What, you ask, is Amanda (F!@#$%) Palmer doing on an obscure minor blog about Peak Everything and the possible/probable collapse of an increasingly complex industrial civilization and extreme climate change?

OK, first things first, as they say (i.e., full disclosure).   I met her ages ago, and actually have had a few  conversations with her about some of the things that are discussed here on a regular basis.   She’s actually written her own bit about it (a long time ago), after she saw a talk by the very level headed Richard Heinberg.  She is one of the hardest working and driven people I’ve ever met.   She’s probably met a few hundred thousand people by now, and my guess is that she’s made friends with a lot of them.   She’s even written a book, and yes, even done a TED talk.

That’s not the important part here; the important part is that we need people like this to lead.

Why, you ask, should we listen to an eccentric artist, ask her to take charge, run for office, make policy, or give advice?  Shouldn’t we be asking people with experience in governance, technocrats and the like to take the reins of power?  We’ve done that already, and to be frank – those folks haven’t done a great job, partly because many of them have never lived close to the ground, nor have they had to actually interact with people and convince them to do something without the threat of force or the law.

Some observations here:

One – people who are artists have known the daily grind of eking out a living.  For years, the part that kept Amanda fed was the business of being a living statue, while she honed her craft as an artist and musician.  When the time came to actually be a full-time musician (with another incredibly talented and hard working musician, Brian Viglione), they put in countless hours on the road, and more importantly, made real-life connections to their fans, who wound up having (and giving) deep and honest support to them.   When people wondered how Amanda got her million-dollar attention on Kickstarter, it was years of meeting, talking, and connecting with people that laid the groundwork for that.   Performers know how to connect with people.

Two – she, like other leaders, knew how to delegate, but also knew when to step in.  There were some legendary events held at the Cloud Club, her domicile and the residence of quite a few other eccentric and creative characters.   These were not simple affairs or just parties; there were multiple acts; films, performances and artwork.   As someone who pitched in from time to time, it was interesting to watch how those events took place.  If you’ve ever worked backstage for any sort of production, you know how complex these sorts of things can become.  There were other events in the art/performance community in that era, and it always appeared to me that the hallmark of smooth running events was delegation of work, and the ability of the hosts (leaders) to attract responsible people to help pitch in and get things done.   At the same time, when push came to shove, and mission critical choices had to be made (live shows and events always have glitches, even the best planned ones), they were done, and the show(s) went on.

Three – Probably most importantly, The Brigade.  One of the hallmarks of the Dresden Dolls (the band that Amanda and Brian formed) was a culture of creativity and engagement that accompanied and complimented the “regular” show performance.   This wasn’t audience participation in the Rocky Horror Picture Show kind (throw things at the screen) of vein, but something more; a way for people to bring their own creativity forward.  An old FAQ of what the Brigade did (required reading if you want the full gist of things) has this essential piece of commentary, Amanda hatched the idea to make the experience much more than “watching the band play.”   The key bit here was that people should stop being purely passive receivers of art, but active participants in its creation, at whatever level they felt comfortable.  Some might consider this to be a modern version of those who used to follow the Grateful Dead or Phish, but to call the participants in the Brigade fans wouldn’t be quite on the mark.  There was more of a direct connection, and a desire for the audience to become more than an audience; “We want the Brigade to be more than people getting dressed up for a Dresden Dolls show.”

Sure, she has an ego and a penchant for performance – that’s part of being an artist.  Will you agree with everything she has said and done?  Of course not; do you agree with everything even your closest friends has done?   Being in the public eye, alas, is a tricky business, and double edged sword.  If you’ve got 1.1+ million twitter followers, any comment that isn’t perfectly tweaked is going to amplified, and certainly not agreed with by everyone.  This, of course, it the reason George Clooney has said he’d never join it ( “I like to have a drink at night,” … “I could easily say something stupid, and I also don’t think you need to be that available.“).

In our strange future, good leaders who can bring disparate forces together are going to be required.  Some of us will be loyal lieutenants and sappers, doing the engineering/engine room work, making the little pieces come together, and ensuring essential infrastructure stays intact (things like communications, safety, sanitation).   Some of us will lead small teams.   We all, for sure, will need to get involved in this world and our nation, rather than being passive audience members.  We will certainly need grand leaders, however, and unconventional ones at that.  They may come from a wide variety of backgrounds.   Amanda Palmer is that sort of person.   We should be on the lookout for such folks; people who can command without being sociopaths, who can lead without coercion, and who understand the reality of the world.

Who knows?  Amanda Palmer for President?

afpp.png

This week’s questions:

  • What are some of the characteristics of good leaders?  Of bad ones?
  • From where else would we get a new breed of leaders?  Might we select our leaders and representatives via lot, as was done in ancient Greece?
  • Do you think we would do any worse with artists and other non-technocrats as leaders?   Ronald Reagan (love or hate him; I wasn’t too keen on him), knew how lead, or at least set the tone for a worldview.
  • It is said that people who want to be president automatically disqualify themselves from the office.   How do we get good people to lead?
  • Cincinnatus is the template for leaders who do the job of solving a society’s problems, and then go back to their old lives (a topic for another day).   Do we have any examples of that in modern society?   Would artists and others from different worlds be more or less likely to follow this lead?

Transitioning to Feudal Democracy

109Bäuerliche_Abgaben.jpg

Attribution: Wikimedia (Farmers in the delivery of their taxes to the landlords. Woodcut)

About a year ago, the post After Democracy was put up.  It put forth the idea of ‘feudal democracy’, in that in a resource constrained world, we might have to rigidly define both rights and responsibilities in order to have any semblance of democracy going forward.  The end line of that post was “A transition to ‘feudal democracy’ will be a pretty tricky business.”

How would such a transition happen, actually?  People in power aren’t going to give their privileges and power up easily, nor, will they most likely ask for further oversight.  Nor will most people, living lives of relative luxury (hot showers, food everywhere, clean water, readily available medical care, massive amounts of entertainment), sign up for more restrictions, or for more responsibilities and hard work.

The advent of fossil fuels led to some amazing technological inventions; telegraph, telephone, radio, television, incredibly cheap and fast travel, the Internet.   It also allowed the population to grow at an unsustainable rate.  At the same time, power could be more centralized, and therefore, fewer people could run herd over many more.

Sadly, it seems that to reset our governance structure would require an entire reboot of society, and perhaps at a lower population level as well.  Of course, this is where science fiction/post-apocalyptic/post-collapse fiction starts to come into play, and the list of possibilities is endless.

One difference in a rebooted society (say, of a more limited population, even 100 million worldwide) is that we would still retain most of the core science and technologies (electricity, basic medicine, navigation, radio, refrigeration), but their continued existence might be in doubt, due to system interdependence.   Also, there’s that pesky problem of 400+ nuclear reactor sites that need electricity to keep their waste pools cool.  So, if, and only if, some basics remain in place, we might be able to transition to such a more “feudal” democracy.

Questions:

  • Is this too dark?  Could we get a ‘Bill of Responsibilities’ with a ‘Bill of Rights’, even in modern America?  Could this happen in a smaller country?
  • Is culture the barrier here?   A country like the US is just too big, and filled with too many cultures, it appears, for something like to get off the ground.  The US constitution was designed in an age where communication (and decision making) was slow, and people were generally self-sufficient.   The population of the US in 1790 was only 3.9 million!
  • As much as technological solutions are looked at with a dim eye here, what if a true replicator technology (Star Trek style) became available, and/or along with cheap space travel (not talking warp drive here, just off the planet)?  Would that give people enough room, both economically and literally, to experiment with such ideas?   Or relatively simple technologies to allow people to more easily live on the sea floors?

Rule of Law

Scale_of_justice_gold.jpg

Well, Ms. Clinton is off the hook again, and after a stern dressing down by the director of the FBI, no charges will be filed against her for the email scandal.    The fact that folks up the food chain have no consequences to seemingly any of their actions is becoming more apparent every day.  Politicians go free, bankers do no jail time.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican; so long as you have some sort of status/pull/celebrity/power, the laws don’t seem to apply.

It has always been ironic that the “scales of justice” represent the rule of law.   The ‘law’ can be tweaked, twisted, and modified to suit whoever is in power.  A true physical scale,  however, is bound by the laws of gravity and mechanics, and no amount of cajoling can change a true scale.

In a cartoon a long time ago, an anthropomorphized mountain, thought these (or similar) words, after an avalanche was caused by passing hikers (who were a bit annoying):

“Natural justice is swift, merciless, and without appeal.”

The truly unfortunate part about people who get away with things isn’t so much that they go free,  but that this sort of “we can do whatever we want, we can create our own reality” worldview can create havoc for the rest of us, who live in the real world, and who don’t have that ability flaunt the law.   At some point, however, you can’t keep cheating nature.  Even those high up will have to deal with the banquet of consequences caused by their inability to act rationally, and natural justice will be upon us again.

Scotty, from Star Trek once famously said, “I cannae change the laws of physics,” when his captain asked for the impossible.   This being Star Trek, of course, the problem at hand was solved, but in the real world things aren’t so easily done.