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Monday Message Board

July 25th, 2016

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

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  1. Newtownian
    July 25th, 2016 at 10:54 | #1

    Bearing in mind the RNC has now finished and there are increasing fears that The Donald will be the next Prez and much is being written on him and his supporters various questions arise e.g. Are they misunderstood, are they approaching the limits of sanity? Is Don for Prez a case of true believers or a mindboggling scam.

    In deciding for oneself some sources may be better than others. In respect to the latter here are three interesting articles/links, the first jaw dropping, the second mind boggling and the third simply the result of applying objective analysis:

    1. On the origins of The Donald….who is he really? Here is an offering from the New Yorker

    (Not sure how long this tale will stay up there given the litigation potential so I suggest reading soon.)

    2. On the nature of his supporters. What would it be like to be a fly on the wall? Here is a delightful piece from New Statesman regular Laurie Penny which rings true


    Like (and as good as) “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” it tells a 1st hand story of surreal reality without the need for too much prejudgement.

    3. Finally on the statistical story here is the link to Nate Silver’s 538 site http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-election-forecast/

    The nice thing about this is it gives a plausible weighted average picture. The depressing mid point says currently Yes Trump has a very very good chance of being elected. The main hope is that probability density function says the uncertainty is so great its way to accept this as inevitable and give up.

    Bottom line is yes Trump is a used car salesman completely unsuited to the responsibility of government, yes his central supporters and their like are either deluded or cynical on a level which is mind boggling and yes he is in with a good chance.

    Enjoy (provided you are comfortable with dark humour)

  2. Ivor
    July 25th, 2016 at 15:14 | #2

    Lipstick fas_cist Ann Coulter:

    If they are worried about the protestors, they should just ban the protests”

  3. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 15:58 | #3

    Time for a little fun. Two of my own conundrums are posed below. I don’t know the answers, by the way, though I do have some tentative ideas. I will be interested to see what others think. I leave all the necessary background knowledge or research to participants, if any.

    1. Why isn’t Mitochondrial Eve’s mother Mitochondrial Eve (and so on in regression)?

    2. Can a finitude contain an infinitude?

    Enjoy, I hope!

  4. GrueBleen
    July 25th, 2016 at 16:41 | #4


    Oh very good, Ikono. Responding in reverse order:

    1. Yes, of course. Surely you have heard of the “Koch snowflake” ? I later thought that the “snowflake”, pretty as it is after a few steps, is way too fancy – just a continuous ‘circumference-like’ line starting any distance inwards from the circle’s actual circumference and heading in, but in circumference-like circles, is capable of infinite continuation.

    And apart from that, pick any two real numbers – no matter how small and no matter how close – and there is an infinitude of real numbers between these two finite ‘bookends’.

    2. She is, because it’s impossible to tie the ‘mitochondrial mother’ down precisely. However, as to why the mitochondrial line doesn’t just go all the way back (to the very first homo sapiens sapiens mother ?) is because mitochondria is a symbiotic life form with its own DNA, and therefore subject to ongoing ‘evolution’ (or at least genome change) via (random) genetic drift.

  5. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 18:50 | #5


    I will stick with my numbering.

    No 1. – I am intrigued by your answer about Mitochondrial Eve as in “it’s impossible to tie the ‘mitochondrial mother’ down precisely”. I had considered not so much genetic drift as a major mutation in the mitochondrial DNA such that Mitochondrial Eve had significantly different mitochondrial DNA from her mother thus marking a kind of genetic schism at the point. Eve’s sisters if any would have presumably not had the mutation and not left any descendants reaching present times. I wish popularisers of science would be more specific about what they mean by “Mitochondrial Eve” in the sense that they explain the specific interacting mechanisms of genetics and evolution which made her the Eve and whether she was a “precise Eve” or an “approximate Eve”.

    No 2. I will await other answers on this one before giving my own thoughts. I suspect the answer might at least partly turn on the definition adopted for “contain”.

  6. July 25th, 2016 at 19:04 | #6


    Here is a possible reason. Say a generation has n females. Then the next generation has n-m eves – not all the females have children. After enough generations, m may become n-1. This may occur if in one generation there were only a few females. Eve herself may have had many “eves” or she may have only had one. If she only had one, then she was the last eve.

  7. J-D
    July 25th, 2016 at 22:23 | #7

    It’s very likely (although there’s no way to be certain) that Mitochondrial Eve had sisters (and/or brothers), and if she did there’s a high probability that at least some of her siblings were/are also ancestors of everybody now living. There were certainly many people (both men and women) who lived at the same time as Mitochondrial Eve and who were/are ancestors of everybody now living (I have no idea how the calculation could be done, but apparently the accepted estimate is 80% of all people then living; the other 20% having no surviving descendants). All those people, just like Mitochondrial Eve, were ancestors of everybody now living; but their mitochondria were/are not ancestors of any living mitochondria.

    This is no more surprising than the fact that all four of your grandparents are ancestors of you (and of any siblings you may have), but your mitochondria (and those of your siblings) are descended from the mitochondria of only one of those four grandparents.

    All human mitochondria today are descended from the mitochondria of Mitochondrial Eve; therefore, all human mitochondria today are descended from the mitochondria of Mitochondrial Eve’s mother, and Mitochondrial Eve’s mother’s mother, and Mitochondrial Eve’s mother’s mother’s mother, and so on back to the earliest eukaryotic organisms with mitochondria. There is/was nothing special about the mitochondria of Mitochondrial Eve making them different from the mitochondria of her mother. But, by definition, Mitochondrial Eve is/was the woman whose mitochondria were/are the most recent common ancestor of all living human mitochondria. That’s what ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ means. It is for this reason, and only for this reason, that Mitochondrial Eve’s mother doesn’t count as Mitochondrial Eve; since Mitochondrial Eve’s mitochondria are common ancestors of all living human mitochondria, they must be more recent common ancestors than the mitochondria of Mitochondrial Eve’s mother. Indeed, it’s easily possible that Mitochondrial Eve’s mother was herself once Mitochondrial Eve, when there were still people living with mitochondria descended from the mitochondria of Mitochondrial Eve’s sister. When the last such person died, the title of Mitochondrial Eve would have descended from mother to daughter. And if Mitochondrial Eve had two daughters who left descendants, then when the last person with mitochondria descended from the mitochondria of one of those daughters dies, the other daughter will succeed her mother as Mitochondrial Eve.

  8. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 23:04 | #8


    I think you have nailed it J-D.

    “In human genetics, Mitochondrial Eve is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all currently living humans. This is the most recent woman from whom all living humans today descend, in an unbroken line, on their mother’s side, and through the mothers of those mothers, and so on, back until all lines converge on one woman, who is estimated to have lived approximately 100,000–200,000 years ago.” – Wikipedia.

    It was the “most recent” part of the MRCA definition which I was not aware of or had not paid proper attention to. The “Eve” moniker threw me off-target. It’s a kind of loose metaphor. She’s not an “Eve” strictly speaking, even in the mitochondrial sense.

    Your Grandparents example also helped to clarify the issue.

  9. GrueBleen
    July 26th, 2016 at 01:13 | #9


    So ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ is “estimated to have lived approximately 100,000 – 200,000 years ago”. Oh such admirable precision, don’t you think ? Just a mere 100,000 years as the uncertainty factor. Yep, that pins it down precisely, doesn’t it.

    With numbers such as “approximately 100,000 – 200,000 years ago” we are obviously talking about the mother of the very first homo sapiens sapiens, not just “ancestors”.

    As I (limitedly) understand it, random genetic drift is, like ‘natural selection’ the way in which mutations (which occur at the individual level) spread into a population – if a particular mutation is highly likely, then multiple members of a population can independently experience the same mutation over a short(ish) period of time. What that does to a ‘single Eve’ concept, I don’t know.

    Otherwise, for your point 2, yes I guess it does depend on one’s definition of “contain”. I await the revelation of your definition. Oh, and the word that my feckless brain omitted from my ‘version’ of a Koch Snowflake was ‘spiral’ – a line starting just inside the circumference and spiraling in towards, but of course never reaching, the centre.

  10. Ikonoclast
    July 26th, 2016 at 06:32 | #10


    I note from the Wikipedia entry:

    “Cann, Stoneking and Wilson did not use the term “Mitochondrial Eve” or even the name “Eve” in their original paper; it appears to be a catchy term popularised by the media. The name appeared in a 1987 article in Science by Roger Lewin, headlined “The Unmasking of Mitochondrial Eve.” The biblical connotation was very clear from the start. The accompanying research news in Nature had the obvious title “Out of the garden of Eden.” Wilson himself preferred the more euphemistic “Lucky Mother” and thought the use of the name Eve “regrettable.” But the concept of Eve caught on with the public and was repeated in a Newsweek cover story (11 January 1988 issue featured a depiction of Adam and Eve on the cover, with the title “The Search for Adam and Eve”), and a cover story in Time on 26 January 1987.”

    From my misapprehension of the concept, it is obvious I pay far too much attention to analogy and metaphor and not enough to definitions and algorithms. I am pleased to find out that Wilson himself found the use of Eve “regrettable”. As is so often the case, religion and the media play central roles in promoting misconceptions. Pun intended!

  11. Ikonoclast
    July 26th, 2016 at 07:10 | #11


    On 2. “Can a finitude contain an infinitude?”

    I have no great insights on this. I was hoping someone with a maths, physics or philosophy background would propose an interesting answer.

    I had thought of mathematical / algorithmic examples of a finitude containing an infinitude as you have. My example was to simply take 1/3 and reduce it to a decimal. In theory, one has created a potential infinite series out two integers and the division algorithm. But this is only projected in theory. If not carried out in practice it does not produce an infinite series.

    Perhaps my definition of “contain” is contain in practice not just in theory. I don’t want to say too much more yet. I am hoping to get some interesting answers on this.

  12. Ivor
    July 26th, 2016 at 08:05 | #12


    Maybe it would be best to provide a clear definition of finitude.

    If finite means “a definite number” then you cannot add to it continually by dividing each number.

    If finite means “everything within bounds”, then you can add members by dividing each number.

  13. Collin Street
    July 26th, 2016 at 09:55 | #13

    > Maybe it would be best to provide a clear definition of finitude.

    How about: A finite set is a set with a “last” element, under some ordering. Probably if any ordering does, then all orderings do, but my number theory is ludicrously not up to that task.

  14. Jim Birch
    July 26th, 2016 at 10:13 | #14

    Interesting blog discussion on the effects of central banks creating their own digital currencies.


    The author argues this would be the end of the banking system as we know it. Frictionless transfers would eliminate transaction costs, and, bank profits. Banks would no longer be required to mediate payments between customers. The fractional reserve system would end and “banks would operate like mutual funds, losing their power to create money and becoming pure intermediaries of loanable funds, as described in economic textbooks.” The central bank would actually control the money supply, rather than signal interest rates.

  15. GrueBleen
    July 26th, 2016 at 11:02 | #15


    Re your comment #9 above, I was vaguely aware of all that, but even as an atheist of about 70 years standing, I don’t object to “poetic license” in giving some ideas form.

    However, I do still have this thing: we, who call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens to distinguish ourselves from our earlier cousins homo sapiens idaltu, had to arise at some particular stage. Now, either many mothers, not themselves homo sapiens sapiens, gave bith to a bunch of us, OR, one mother, possibly already homo sapiens sapiens, gave birth over time to a very few h.s.s who ‘ancestered’ us all.

    Now which is it: a single ancestral mother – some 100,000 – 200,000 years ago, would simply have to also be our ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ yes ?

  16. Ikonoclast
    July 26th, 2016 at 11:06 | #16

    @Collin Street

    I think the definition of finitude is relatively easy. Finitude is “the state of having limits or bounds” or “a finitude” is “something which has limits or bounds”.

    I think now (maybe) the problem is with the definition of “infinitude” which leads in turn to the problem of defining “contains” which I alluded to above. If I ask “can a room contain a chair?” this involves comparison of two finitudes (finite “things”) comparable in at least some measurable quantities (like dimensions) and testable in practice. As well as the standard answer of “yes in most cases” we can imagine an Alice-in-Wonderland set where an oversize chair cannot fit in a tiny room.

    The whole reason I posed the original question was because I an wondering about the phenomenon of emergence. “In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties.” – Wikipedia.

    If genuine novelty, complexity or both arise in the process of emergence is the totality of existence “increased”? This is an odd and awkward question I know. But if the totality of existence is increased, this in some form comprises in itself a type of creation ex nihilo and would set the stage for an infinitude to arise out of a finitude. To be honest, I think my speculations here are probably useless and wrong-headed. More to the point, the total entropy of the universe can only increase so an increase in complexity and order in one sub-system (like the biosphere) is purchased as it were by increased entropy elsewhere such that the standard rate of loss of order in the universe (increasing entropy) proceeds at the same rate. I assume. But this only addresses quantifiable aspects of emergent complexity as a system wide (universe wide) problem. What about the qualitative aspects? If a new quality arises to existence is existence or being somehow augmented or increased? In this sense can we postulate that;

    Sum of Existence of qualities at t2 is GT the Sum of Existence of qualities at t1?

    Of course, the puzzle too is the commencement of the Universe (if it commenced or recycled) in a condition of high order (low entropy). However, I have no patience at all for “God” explanations. They explain nothing. They explain away rather than explain. The “brute fact” position is equally tenable. A brute fact is a fact that has no explanation. Indeed the “God” explanation is a brute fact explanation anyway. “Existence IS but it has no explanation” is the same as “God made everything” because one more regression leads to “God IS but has no explanation”. All the supposed attributes of “God”, as quite variously envisaged in many cultures (while actually not envisaged in some cultures), come from dogma. There is no objective source of dogma which does not validate itself by a circular proof; as in “This text is revelation as it says so in this text.”

  17. Ivor
    July 26th, 2016 at 13:08 | #17

    Bernie Sanders – says it all….

  18. Jim Birch
    July 26th, 2016 at 14:23 | #18

    The critical thing to understand about mitochondrial DNA is that it doesn’t recombine it just copies to all the mother’s children, but potentially with copy errors. Over time this produces variations, which then flow down to the next children. These variations are potentially beneficial or harmful, but are most likely neutral. In general, DNA is mostly junk: sequences that don’t code proteins or contribute to the transcription or replication processes. This situation occurs because the junk DNA has negligible cost and negligible benefit. In comparison, a copy error that resulted in a dysfunctional required protein would be eliminated and a copy error that produces an adaptive advantage would quickly spread across the population.

    It is the neutral changes to junk DNA that make this sort of calculation possible. Mutations occur at an estimable rate and they then persist down generations. Estimates of the mutation rate can be made from variations in populations with known separation times. This allows a calculation of the time when there were no mutations, voila, “mitochondrial Eve”. Comparisons of mitochondrial DNA across the species also allows the possibility of multiple Eves to be rules out, i.e. different origin sets of mitochondrial DNA. Basically, we all have a lot of similar junk DNA with identical sequences – or actually, slightly mutated but clearly copied down from the same source DNA.

    These techniques are statistical, which means that they are inexact. They can give good estimates over large numbers of individuals but since there are thought to have been very limited numbers of us early on, the time is uncertain.

  19. John Goss
    July 26th, 2016 at 16:46 | #19

    Wow. Rod Sims is arguing that privatization generally costs consumers and has undermined the chances of needed economic reforms. Who would have thunk it.


  20. July 27th, 2016 at 00:12 | #20

    Trump just hit the lead in the RCP poll of polls for the first time this Presidential cycle. Apparently he got the biggest post-nomination bump in recent history. If there is sch a thing as a Big Mo then this is surely it.

    One great thing about Trumps post-nomination polling surge is that the Beltway Establishment is running scared and showing its true colours. The Washington Post just published a front page anti-Trump editorial which was an exercise in barely controlled hysteria. Not a pretty sight. If Trump gets to be President there are a lot of gravy trains heading for derailment.

    Trump’s Tower is not surprising to the man on the street. This past month the world (Orlando, Nice, Hilary-gate Pt Umpteen( has put on a Trump reality TV show pretty much confirming his most obnoxious views. But their lyin’ eyes have told them that all along.

    Trumps brilliant acceptance speech was the icing on the cake. Pay no attention to “fact checkers” who nit pick details and miss the Big Picture. They can’t see the wood for the trees.

    Trump’s Tower is not surprising to me. Back in AUG 2015 I argued that Trump was a “good bet” for the REP nomination. I just won $162.00 off Sports Bet on the strength of that prediction. Should have gone earlier & harder.

    My psephological model seems to have some predictive legs, particularly the Demand side which envisaged a splintering of the DEM voter base:

    My Five P (Pecuniary, Periodicity, Policy, Personality. Party) theory of the Supply side of politics predicts the REPs as slight favourites. The Pecuniary economy is only so-so, it’s the third Period of a DEM presidency, the candidates Personality is hard to love, the DEM party is fractious, the DEM establishment has not set the world alight with Policy proposals.

    Of course the Supply side is only one side of the equation, the Demand side of politics is driven by slow changes in demography. These are tending to favour the DEMs over the long run, so long as the Rainbow Coalition of minorities can hang together to form an effective majority – no small ask given its fractious nature.

    By contrast Trump can rely on white majority ethnic solidarity to get out his Base. He is very cleverly making a strong Right-wing populist appeal to the White majority, exactly the kind of strategy that won Nixon two elections. He makes Jeb Bush the other dynastic successor look kind of milquetoast by comparison.

    Despite that I am still betting ($100 @ Bet365) Trump will just lose. I suspect the Bourgeois-Bohemian coalition that staffs the post modern liberal Establishment will muster enough concentrated economic interest to get out enough of their minority voter base to just fall over the line. And there is always Soros & Sim.

    But Trump’s Tower is very surprising to (post-)modern liberal Establishment, especially the media-academia elite. Nate Silvers rep has taken a heavy blow. And he’s the best of a bad bunch. The post-)modern liberal Establishment have, con-jointly, been wrong about everything in general. So it would have been the most unlikely turn-up for the books if they got Trump right.

    Many people, such as the present commenter, who do not care for Trump as a person or for his climate change denying policies, have hugely enjoyed watching virtually the entire public intellectual world repeatedly shoot itself in the foot over Trump, Brexit & Hanson.

    If Trump wins much of the culpability must be laid at the door of “liberal” Establishment who have essentially persecuted the general populace over the past generation. Till they got “mad as hell and couldn’t take it any more”. This is what happens when you push the majority of people in democracy too far.

    The “liberal” Establishment just don’t get it. And, at this late stage of the game, the odds are they never will.

  21. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 01:14 | #21

    @Jim Birch

    Re your #18

    Yes, that pretty much says clearly what I think I thought. The ‘non-recombinance’ of mitochondrial DNA is significant in the story because, of course, even a significant mitochondrial mutation has no effect on speciation. Not that speciation was part of Ikono’s original point, but I’m still just wondering if our ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ isn’t also our more general ‘species Eve’.

    We are such a very recent and young species, after all. Mitochondria, contrariwise, are as old as eukaryotes which is more than 2 billion years.

  22. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 01:28 | #22

    @Collin Street

    Umm, I think that a “finite set” is defined as a set that has a finite cardinal.

    Unless perhaps we’re dealing with Cantorian transfinite sets ?

    Anyhow, there’s also the basic distinction of countable and uncountable infinities – eg the ‘natural’ numbers (countable) and the ‘real’ numbers (uncountable).

  23. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 01:42 | #23


    Your #16

    Ah, comprehension has dawned. You did confess your devoted interest in things “philosophical” elsewhere, didn’t you.

    Ok, so you have definitely taken on the mantle of the philosopher, and your reward is a lifetime spent asking unanswerable questions. And arguing about everybody else’s attempts to answer them.

    Like: Are things holy because they are beloved of the god(s) or are they beloved of the god(s) because they are holy ?

    But never mind, we’ve made almost no discernible progress in answering the unanswerable in the 2500 or so years since the Greeks formalized ‘philosophy’ – other than in defining the rules of valid reasoning, anyway. So when the final (?) moment comes, you will have nothing to reproach yourself over 🙂

  24. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 01:55 | #24

    @John Goss

    Thanks for bringing that up. Does it mean that the Productivity Commission is now the last Federal bastion of econorat* doctrinal purity ?

    * economic rationalism in its most simple-minded form

  25. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 02:30 | #25
  26. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2016 at 05:25 | #26


    I regularly get berated for using the word “capitalism” because it is ill-defined in the minds of some. Yet, completely nebulous words like “holy” and “God” are routinely bandied around as if they had a meaning clear to everyone. Go figure. 🙂

    I wonder if anyone has counted the number of times the word “believe” was used at the Democratic Convention. Actually they have. See note.*

    The use of the word “believe” in the US is diagnostic. In the US they BELIEVE and if they BELIEVE something it must right. If you BELIEVE it strongly then this justifies any action at all. George Bush and the British Blair BELIEVED they had to go to war in Iraq. Apparently it’s enough to BELIEVE to make any action right. “And by the way, don’t let anyone tell you American isn’t great.” That’s what Michelle Obama said. The arrogance and hubris is astonishing. But they BELIEVE in God and God makes them great and humble all at the same time. It’s a miracle!

    * Footnote: Actually you can find out at the New York Times Interactive: “At the National Conventions, the Words They Used”. For Dems “believe” is used 30 times per 25,000 spoken words and for Repubs its 31 times per 25,000 spoken words. It’s a pity the interactive does not allow more than adding words. I added “a”, “the”, “and” and “of”. The numbers indicate that the interactive needs functions like “remove articles”, “remove connectives”, “show only nouns” and so on.

  27. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2016 at 06:02 | #27

    @John Goss

    Yes, many privatisations are failures. I mean failures at lowering prices for consumers. They have been great successes in terms of making the upper 1% richer. I suspect too that, due to privatisation, total productivity and GDP are lower than they might otherwise have been.

    We need to re-nationalise natural monopolies and economically strategic infrastructures.

  28. J-D
    July 27th, 2016 at 07:39 | #28

    GrueBleen :
    Re your comment #9 above, I was vaguely aware of all that, but even as an atheist of about 70 years standing, I don’t object to “poetic license” in giving some ideas form.
    However, I do still have this thing: we, who call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens to distinguish ourselves from our earlier cousins homo sapiens idaltu, had to arise at some particular stage. Now, either many mothers, not themselves homo sapiens sapiens, gave bith to a bunch of us, OR, one mother, possibly already homo sapiens sapiens, gave birth over time to a very few h.s.s who ‘ancestered’ us all.
    Now which is it: a single ancestral mother – some 100,000 – 200,000 years ago, would simply have to also be our ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ yes ?

    No. Wrong.

    If you take a thousand people selected at random and line them up in order of height, at one end of the line you will have people who are indisputably short and at the other end of the line you will have people who are indisputably tall, but if you walk along the line you will not be able to point to a definite stage where there’s a shift or switch from short people to tall people. In the middle of the line there are people who aren’t exactly short and aren’t exactly tall, but are just sort of in-between. There is a difference between short and tall (obviously), but the boundary is blurry. And if you decide on three categories of short, medium, and tall, you won’t be able to point to a definite stage where there’s a shift or switch from short to medium or one where there’s a definite shift or switch from medium to tall; you’ll still have blurry boundaries.

    If it was possible to line up a series of individuals from child to parent starting with any modern person and stretching back into our evolutionary past, and if you could then walk back along the line, you would eventually reach individuals who were clearly not Homo sapiens, and if you kept walking back you would eventually reach individuals who were clearly not even Homo, but you would not find one definite point on the line where there was a shift or switch, in just one generation, from Homo sapiens to a predecessor species of Homo; and if you divided up the Homo sapiens part of the line into different subspecies, you wouldn’t find one definite point on the line where there was a shift or switch, in just one generation, from modern Homo sapiens sapiens to a predecessor subspecies. Natura non facit saltum.

  29. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 10:31 | #29


    Umm, “many privatisations are failures.” Ikno ?

    Try “most, if not all, privatisations are failures”. But what they have been successful at – apart from feeding the 1%, is financing various governments to spend (especially on feeding the 1%) without having to go quite so obviously into deficit and debt – which, as we all know, spell total doom and destruction for the human race.

    Being, a peanutter you wouldn’t know about Henry Bolte, so I’ll just quote from his entry in Wikipedia (below the line). What a terrible State Capitalist he was (but we have to forgive him for the coal and the gas, their inherent evil wasn’t understood back in those long ago days).
    Bolte used state debt to provide a wide range of state infrastructure and he was very successful at winning overseas investment for the state. Some of his large projects were increased coal production and power generation in the Latrobe Valley, new offshore oil and gas fields in Gippsland, the West Gate Bridge over the lower Yarra River, a new international airport for Melbourne at Tullamarine and two new universities (Monash University and La Trobe University). Bolte was easily re-elected at the 1958, 1961 and 1964 state elections.

  30. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 10:48 | #30


    Ah well, but “god” and “holy” etc are a different class of thing from “capitalism”. Let me tell you of a little tale from C Northcote Parkinson’s now almost forgotten work: “Parkinson’s Law or the Pursuit of Progress”.

    CNP had noted that in management/government circles “that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved”. But much more so to the knowledge of the meeting participants. So, in the example he quotes, a large city council is meeting to discuss various matters and the first item on the agenda is approval for a nuclear power station costing $10billion.

    There is one guy in the meeting who knows something about such matters, and it sounds a bit fishy to him: way too costly and also very optimistic about the standard of the technology and the timeframe for implementation. But he knows that if he speaks up, he’s going to have to try to explain a lot of esoteric matters to a bunch of naïf councillors. So he shuts up.

    But another guy is confident he knows all about such things (an early example of Dunning-Kruger, you see), so he rattles on confidently for a minute or two and then the vote is taken and the power station is approved.

    The next item is for the building of a bicycle shed outside the back of the Council Chambers for an estimated cost of $500. Now absolutely everyone understands (or thinks they do – is there a term for mass Dunning-Kruger ?) bicycle sheds. So debate rages on for hours and the proposal is eventually sent back to the Ways and Means Planning Committee for further detailed analysis.

    So it goes. Am I getting my message through ?

    If not, just consider how that same simplistic “understanding” of “god” has fed the Pascal Wager for so very long.

  31. pablo
    July 27th, 2016 at 13:36 | #31

    If I can piggyback on GrueBleen’s ‘tail of two procedural administrations’ I’m very surprised to have read little on Australia’s extended role in Iraq ever so quietly announced with US VP Biden in Australia last week. I thought he-of-the-designer-sunglasses and perfect teeth was here to open a cancer research facility, but never mind, the extension of Australia’s training effort from the army to the Iraqi police by some 300 personnel was quietly revealed. So we had the ‘big’ decision whenever (under a rampant Abbott?) to help train the demoralised military followed by the ‘bikeshed’ decision of moving across to a law and order training role. No hesitation was evident from the ‘we-have-a-mandate’ Turnbull government.
    A cursory look at this new game would be a much closer relationship with the Iraqi citizenry I suggest. Whatever failures of the police could provoke some public reaction which our police trainers could find uncomfortably close. Moreover with an assault on Mosul now seen as imminent, what greater risk for foreigners from a potentially hostile but cowed IS populace?

  32. Jim Birch
    July 27th, 2016 at 14:07 | #32

    Mitochondrial Eve does not demonstrate a single ancestral mother, it’s a bit more complex, and actually a bit abstract too. It is presumably a time when the humans went through a population bottleneck so that there was only one or a limited distinct number of strains of human mitochondrial DNA around. There may have been only one but it is also possible that there may have been multiple branches but all but the one that we all have now have died out.

    It is possible, for example, that later on an adaptive mutation spread through the population that was only compatible/adaptive with this particular mitochondrial gene set. The mitochondrial genome is not sufficient itself to build a functioning mitochondria, and has not been for a long time – well before humans appeared. It operates in concert with, and relies on, the much larger nuclear DNA genome. Over time, genes that were originally part of the mitochondrial genome have “migrated” to the nuclear DNA. Direct DNA transfer is presumably possible but it is more likely that a better gene for the required function appeared in the much larger nuclear get set which allowed the less useful mitochondrial version to decay over time since there was no selection pressure to maintain it.

    BTW there’s a recent book I’d strongly recommend for insight into modern ideas on genes, selection, disease and evolution: The Society of Genes by Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher. This extends Dawkins’ Selfish Gene to the idea of genes acting as a kind of society: an individual gene is selfish in the sense that doesn’t care about the organism or the species, but it can’t propagate itself. Adaptive functions rely on groups of genes acting together. The book illustrates this with a bunch of informative examples, including IIRC some stuff about mitochondrial DNA.

  33. rog
    July 27th, 2016 at 15:58 | #33

    Chairman of the ACCC Rod Sims says that he now regrets privatisation


  34. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 16:20 | #34

    @Jim Birch

    Yes, it probably is time I updated my understanding (such as it may be) on genes, selection, disease and evolution – and random gene drift, evo devo and epigenetics and all that sort of stuff. I think The Selfish Gene is about the most recent thing I’ve read on the topic – and that was an exercise in creative ‘faction’ by Dawkins, I fear.

    However, I was just kinda musing about speciation, and how it happens … one gene at a time, maybe ? I recall a ‘wildlife documentary’ – it may even have been an Attenborough but I can’t be sure – about a species of birds with its main habitat in the near sub-Arctic latitudes that has progressively spread around the world, at least in the available landmass at that latitude.

    So basically there are essentially isolated large ‘tribes’ of this bird species (and I wish I could remember its name, but Google refuses to respond appropriately to my feeble thrusts of inquiry). Anyway, as you start in, most probably Siberia, and work your way around the world, there are noticeable differences eg beaks, size, colouration etc. And the further away you get from its original home (in Siberia, I guess) the more marked the differences are. So, if we had enough world, the single species might already have split into at least two. Kinda like the Galapagos finches which are just a bit different on each island and will likely eventually speciate.

    So I was just contemplating that if there ever was such a thing as a ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ (and I accept your point about mitochondrial DNA), then was there ever such a thing as a ‘Speciation Eve’ – the very first ever female homo sapiens sapiens – and if so, would she also have to have been a ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ ? In part it was just the similarity in estimated timeframe (100,000 – 200,000 years) for both things that tickled my fancy

    Ok, gormless “speculations” over, I’ll go back to reading Jerry Coyne’s blog again, now.

  35. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 16:31 | #35


    I kinda agree with you wholeheartedly J-D except for one thing: at some point a mother can still successfully breed with other homos, but her daughter can’t. The whole point of speciation is that unlike the example you’ve given of height, there comes a stage at which successful interbreeding becomes impossible, ie there is a binary split, a discontinuity – though some species, eg horses, donkeys and their mule offspring aren’t yet quite completely there (but very close).

    Is that how it happened with homo sapiens sapiens ? And if not, was it just because all our ‘close enough to breed’ relatives went extinct (whether directly due to us or not) ? And even so, was there a point in time in which mum (and dad) could have interbred successfully with our cousin homos – if any had still been around – but daughter (and son) could not have.

  36. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2016 at 17:12 | #36

    Richard Wolff gives a brilliant yet very simple and clear speech. He explains the history and nature of American capitalism – what went right and then what went wrong, and why. This is in terms any layperson can understand. There is no heavy theory, just plain incontrovertible historical facts. It’s so clearly the case that those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.

  37. Robert Banks
    July 27th, 2016 at 17:16 | #37

    John – your recent post about the Three Party system seems to have a counterpart in Thomas Franks’ description of US politics (this is a bit simplified) as capital (or money), education, and labour. As I think you pointed out, none of the 3 on their own are large enough to command a majority in their own right, so it all depends on what coalition(s) can be made to work. None of the 3 are completely homogeneous either, so there always some grey areas at the edges and intersections.

  38. J-D
    July 27th, 2016 at 20:09 | #38


    ‘… at some point a mother can still successfully breed with other homos, but her daughter can’t.’

    That seems massively unlikely on the face of it, and you’ve given no reason to think it’s true.

    It’s much more likely that each generation is inter fertile with the generation that comes before it and the generation that comes after it.

    That’s what happens (although obviously not genetically) with languages. The people who live in (let’s say) Winchester now could communicate without much difficulty with the people who lived there fifty years ago; and those people, fifty years ago, were able to communicate without much difficulty with the people who lived there fifty years before that; and so on, and so on — and yet, the language people use in Winchester now and the language people used there in the ninth century are not mutually intelligible and would not commonly be recognised, if spoken or written, as the same language, even if we call them both ‘English’. The gradual accumulation of differences over time results, eventually, in the loss of mutual intelligibility.

    It seems most likely, and consistent with everything else we know, that something similar happens in biological evolution; that the gradual accumulation of genetic differences over time results in what we are justified in calling the emergence of a new species. But it’s most unlikely that we’d ever find an actual example of parent and child and be justified in calling them members of different species.

    There may be examples of this with what are called ‘ring species’, demonstrating at one point in time what probably happens over the lapse of time, like the Larus gulls you mentioned in your other comment, although I find on looking them up that recent research has cast doubt on whether that’s actually an example of a ring species. But if you look up ‘ring species’ or ‘Larus’ you can find out more.

  39. GrueBleen
    July 28th, 2016 at 02:23 | #39


    Ah the Larus gull as a “ring species” – thanks for that. If my befuddled old brain had managed even to remember the “ring” keyword, that would have helped.

    Anyway, while maybe I have “…given no reason to think it’s true”, I still have this small problem: species arise out of prior species (except possibly for the very first back 4 billion years ago). All the homo species have arisen ultimately out of erectus, yes ?

    But if there were any surviving erectus, we (homo sapiens sapiens) could not interbreed with them because that is the definition of species, is it not ? Different species cannot interbreed, no matter how closely related they might otherwise be.

    So kindly tell me, in your generational gradualist approach, how and when do species separate ?

  40. GrueBleen
    July 28th, 2016 at 02:29 | #40


    What, you expect us to sit still for nearly an hour just to listen to some old codger’s ideas as to why America isn’t great any more ?

    Sheesh, it’s just as well, Ikono, that there’s nothing worthwhile to watch on telly these days (except the Daria replays, BOC).

  41. Ikonoclast
    July 28th, 2016 at 06:29 | #41


    Well, you were complaining about not knowing what “capitalism” meant and requiring information. As well as simplified definitions, potted histories can help. Existents, especially complex systems like capitalism, are not objects but collections of processes through time… or I should say through space-time. 😉 Thus you need some history to get more of a picture.

  42. J-D
    July 28th, 2016 at 07:17 | #42


    I don’t know how I can add to what I’ve written in my previous comments. The answer to your question ‘how and when do species separate?’ is ‘incrementally and gradually, not at one definite fixed point in time’. I’m reasonably confident that if you investigate what professional biologists have to say on the subject, you’ll find broad agreement on that. Perhaps you could use ‘speciation’ as a speech term to find more information on the subject.

    You could also try looking up the ‘Sorites’ paradox. The answer to the question ‘how and when do species separate?’ has some similarities to the answer to the question ‘how and when does a heap become a non-heap?’.

    You could also try reading more about the concept of ‘transitivity’, the point being that interfertility, like mutual intelligibility, is not a strictly transitive relationship — perhaps you’re thinking of it as if it was.

  43. Ikonoclast
    July 28th, 2016 at 08:50 | #43

    Would anyone like to hazard a guess or make an estimate of how many humans in the world could understand this paper? “Consciousness as a State of Matter” – Max Tegmark


    For the record, of course I cannot understand this paper. I did physics successfully (as in passing the exams) to the end of Semester 1 at University in the early 1970s. I have now forgotten much of the specifics of what I learned but I retain a few general ideas about simple classical physics, mechanics, statics, basic behaviour of light and waves. You know the sort of stuff… and nothing remotely related to quantum physics, information theory etc.

    As a general principle, it is clear we are too complicated to understand ourselves. I see that principle as extending to our modern society, say as viewed through the prism of political economy (only because that prism is one of my interests). We construct and run social-political-economic-technological systems too complicated for us to understand in total. We understand components and some or perhaps even many sub-systems (at least enough to implement, maintain, run and manage them) but we don’t understand the entire macro system in terms of what will or could or might emerge from it (meaning in terms of complex systems emergence).

    In summary? We really don’t know WTF we are doing. I for one have no confidence that the human race knows what it is doing. Whilst the biosphere system provided free lunches, whilst we could damage locally and move on, whilst we could discover new natural riches and so on, this sort of serendipity sustained us. As we approach natural limits we can no longer rely on this natural bounty serendipity. We have created a system we far from fully understand and we have grown it like Topsy without regard for environmental limits, complexity limits and so on. Instead of showing caution and humility about our human limitations and environmental limitations we have rushed on in complete hubris. We have entered the Anthropocene and the “Age of Consequences”.

  44. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 09:14 | #44


    Actually I think we do know what we are doing. The problem is that there are those who still force their way onto the rest of the population due to their vested interests.

    You just have to examine the arguments for slavery in the nineteenth century and the arguments over nicotine in the twentieth and the arguments for catastrophic capitalism now. Vested interests speak louder than either science or morality.

    This is the lesson of history.

  45. GrueBleen
    July 28th, 2016 at 09:20 | #45


    Well, having had some time to think about it, J-D, I came to the conclusion that you might just be righter than I am, and maybe I should take your advice – and also honour my stated position with Jim Birch to read more about it. But anyway, my observation that speciation occurs “one gene at a time” might be more “accurate” than I thought.

    Yes, thanks, I am quite familiar with the Sorites ‘heap’ both in terms of how many hairs make a beard and also in “the heap of related and consequential arguments” that are need to resolve any complex question.

    Though I was sorely tempted to follow the lead of another participant in this discussion and ask for some reason to think it might be true. But then, we don’t get to observe many acts of speciation, do we ? Even with drosophila melanogaster.

    But I thank you for the info on the Larus gull and the idea of “ring species” – though there appears to be some difference of opinion as to whether the Larus qualifies (maybe Galapagos finches are a better example 🙂 )

    I confess to not having considered transitivity in relation to (cross) breeding – only in relation to multi-candidate preferential voting and STV etc. I might even take a bit more interest in breeding transitivity.

  46. GrueBleen
    July 28th, 2016 at 09:28 | #46


    Now, now, Ikono – I already have a fair idea what capitalism means, I was more concerned to understand what it means to you. Because, after all, a complex matter such as ‘capitalism’ will clearly mean different things to different people, won’t it.

    But I guess I can take it that Prof Wolff in the video presentation documents your take on it which I can then maybe compare with my take on it with much joyful mutual controversy to follow.

  47. Ikonoclast
    July 28th, 2016 at 11:57 | #47

    “Consciousness Realism – The Non-Eliminativist Physicalist View of Consciousness” – by
    Magnus Vinding (2016).


    I would have to say I substantially agree with Magnus Vinding on the Consciousness topic. I have a few quibbles. As I have said elsewhere, a thorough-going Monism postulates neither “physicalism” nor say “spiritism” like George Berkeley’s idealist philosophy. It simply postulates “existent-ism” and “system-ism”: all existents related in one system and indeed in a sense mutually self-generating. We cannot say what existents are. Indeed saying what they “are” is just adding a word to the human lexicon. It is only the relation of existents to each other and to the whole which we can discover, and then only partially. Even the monist system is merely an understanding model. Strictly speaking, we can’t say the cosmos is a single, entangled system. We can only say, the cosmos is best understood as a single, entangled system. There is a clear difference in these claims. As always, the map is not the territory.

    As always these are just my views of course, be they directly derivative or “osmotically” derivative. I don’t claim any originality.

    Sorry, there don’t seem to be any new sandpits opened.

  48. GrueBleen
    July 28th, 2016 at 15:03 | #48


    Your #43

    I did just a wee bit better than you – at least I lasted until midway through 2nd year Physics at Melb Uni before becoming just another dropout hippy and Yellow Cab driver.

    How many in the world could “understand” it ? Well you might like to know that Mark Day (at the post The Dayside : One million physicists on the Physics Today blog) estimates that there’s somewhere between 400,000 and 900,000 Physics PhDs in the world at present; so, maybe half a million have the necessary qualifications to understand it. And maybe even more since he didn’t include Masters degrees, BSC with Hons etc.

    But do keep in mind, Ikono, that Tegmark is an MIT cosmologist; I’ll repeat that: an MIT cosmologist. And cosmologists, apart from possessing ‘Physics arrogance’ (ie, the belief that physicists, and only physicists, know all that is known and only physicists can be trusted to discover what is not known), are primitive ‘descriptionists’. By which I mean that if you understand Nathaniel David Mermin’s distinction between ‘explanation’ and ‘description’, then you’ll appreciate that cosmologists blithely believe that they know what ding an sich reality actually is – and it’s what their current set of beliefs tell them it is.

    I’m not going to claim that I could “understand” the paper – not without a heap of revision plus lots of new learning anyway, and life is way too short – but then I would ask just what the “understanding” would be worth. Apart from it involving tensors – and as you know, tensors were way too hard for Einstein who had to get his mate Grossman to do the Special Relativity maths and Hilbert to do the General Relativity maths, and tensors are way too hard for me, untutored – Tegmark’s first Intro paragraph is just metaphysics from end to end.

    Besides, such papers are just timewasters: whatever Tegmark has said will take time and effort to either verify (at least partially) or refute (probably wholly), and … yes, you guessed it, life is too short.

    I should just introduce you to an entertaining ‘paper’ written by Isaac Asimov and published in Astounding Sci Fi in 1955 (I was 12, but I read it) titled ‘The Sound of panting’ which was based on Charlie Dodgson’s Red Queen and having to “run as fast as I can just to stay on one spot”. Asimov related this to the almost incessant reading (running as hard as I can) required to stay abreast of a developing technical field (to stay on one spot). And it was quite pointless, of course – most of the papers and publications turned out to be useless, or at best short-term way stations on the way, eventually, to something of lasting value.

    So if I were you, Ikono, I’d forget Tegmark’s paper until, if ever, it becomes ‘Accepted Wisdom’ whereupon, heaps of people will rush forth just to explain it to you in layman’s terms.

  49. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 19:17 | #49

    Dossier on Donald Trump -211 pages
    Here – Start at page 2

  50. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 19:20 | #50
  51. Ivor
    July 28th, 2016 at 19:21 | #51


    As above but properly formatted:


  52. Ikonoclast
    July 28th, 2016 at 20:44 | #52


    Yes, good points. I basically accept what you say there. I found a site that said;

    “Description tells about the phenomenon. Explanation shows the mechanism that is theorized to underlie it.”

    I like the inclusion of the phrase “that is theorized”. After all, “The map is not the territory.” The theory is not the thing-in-itself. Getting our theories right (according to criteria of repeatability, correlation and prediction) is smoothing the map. Smoothing the map does not smooth the territory.

  53. Ikonoclast
    July 28th, 2016 at 21:05 | #53

    I discovered this on a link from the Utilitarian Philosophy site.


    “COMPASSIONATE BIOLOGY – How CRISPR-based “gene drives” could cheaply, rapidly and
    sustainably reduce suffering throughout the living world.”

    It is advocacy for using gene drive technology to reduce animal suffering. I don’t want to write too much about this other than to say it one of the craziest crank ideas I have ever read. Pain in animals has an evolved purpose, unpleasant and even agonising as it can be. The idea of reducing pain for animals in this way might sound cuddly but basically what it would do is destroy species rapidly.

    There might be a place for using gene drive technology to eradicate dangerous species like mosquitoes. But, we would have to be very careful of unintended consequences.

  54. GrueBleen
    July 29th, 2016 at 02:08 | #54


    Much goodness all round then. And whether or not the site you quote was referring to Mermin specifically, the quote summarizes his position nicely.

  55. GrueBleen
    July 29th, 2016 at 02:31 | #55


    Your #36

    Well so help me, I did sit through Prof Wolff’s talk – almost all the way to the end 🙂

    It did partake of American Exceptionalism just a touch though: America is the best at being best and it’s also the best at being worst.

    I wasn’t aware though of the claim that American wages (ie for the working and middle classes) increased for about 150 years (1820 – 1970) even though he did have to do a kind of Purchasing Power parity analysis to be able to claim that, though wages fell in the absolute sense during the Great Depression (1929 – 1942 in his words), they actually increased because the difference between what the proletariat earned and what they had to spend increased. A nice little accounting dodge, that one.

    But the, according to the Proff, the reality of capitalism kicked and when the “shortage of American workers” was overcome by (1) women entering the real workforce in unprecedented numbers and (2) immigration (largely Hispanic), the evil capitalists stopped increasing wages and so the working and middle classes began to go backwards.

    Of course, that wasn’t (and ppresumably isn’t) a capitalism specific property, it applied to feudal Europe as well. And Europe, back then, didn’t need to import lots of (black) slaves since the feudal lords had effectively enslaved most of the population – as bonded serfs rather than strictly as slaves, but the results is very similar.

    To my recall, the European serfs were liberated by two things: firstly, by that great leveler, The Black Plague which very rapidly reduced the number of workers and set up the feudal lords to allow for serf mobility because attracting workers away from other feudal lords was the only way they could get an adequate workforce and (2) a major program of Quantitative Easing, otherwise known as the flood of Spanish silver into Europe (Spain got far more silver than gold from South America, and despite the best efforts of ‘Captain’ Drake et al, lots of it got through to Spain).

    But an otherwise entertaining hour (almost) though I had to break in the middle to go and watch the day’s Daria repeat. Don’t think Proff Wolff will ever inspire the world, or even America, to the Great Counter-Capitalism Revolution though.

  56. J-D
    July 29th, 2016 at 07:13 | #56


    You said you were tempted to ask for a reason. I’m happy to supply some reasoning.

    Individuals that survive long enough to breed are (by definition) well adapted to their environment (that’s approximately what ‘well adapted’ means). Because there are, as Richard Dawkins observed, many ways of being alive but vastly more ways of being dead (I can’t remember whether he was quoting somebody else), a massive change to the genome of a well adapted organism is statistically certain to be catastrophic. Therefore, any offspring that themselves survive to breed will have only small genetic differences from the generation that bred them and therefore will be interfertile with them. Thus each generation should be expected to be interfertile with the generation before it and the generation after it.

  57. GrueBleen
    July 29th, 2016 at 09:16 | #57


    Yes, what you say is the received wisdom, J-D, and it was considerations along this line that persuaded me that you were more right than me.

    Nonetheless, I think the proposition that animals that survive long enough to breed are “well adapted” is debatable. For instance, brown rats in a stable environment, eg a barn: the females start breeding at 11 weeks but apparently as many as 99% of the rats die before reaching adulthood. Not altogether “well adapted” to that particular environment, however well adapted they may be to more “natural” environments, but it doesn’t stop them breeding in profusion.

    I had thought (vague memories) that there were clearer examples of juvenile reproduction but a bit of Google searching including neoteny, paedomorphosis and progenesis wasn’t very successful in finding clear examples – though I seem to recall that some insects reproduce in the larval stage (ie before reaching adulthood).

    So I can still consider that a small(ish) mutation could be such as to not stop ongoing reproduction, but could yet render young and their parents unable to interbreed. However, yes, I grant this would be rare if it has ever happened at all.

    Anyway, as I thought, it is a matter of “reasoning” and not of observation, and that always leaves room for doubt.

  58. GrueBleen
    July 29th, 2016 at 15:01 | #58


    Oops, I found it at last: neotony/paedomorphosis occurs in the axolotl (and other salamanders, apparently) !

  59. GrueBleen
    July 29th, 2016 at 15:45 | #59


    Your #43

    Well, working my way slowly through your postings, Ikono: now I am up to “We really don’t know WTF we are doing.”

    I don’t think I’ll accept Ivor’s attempt at an answer, will you ? My view is two-fold:

    Firstly, to give Ivor his due, and to recall a certain Iron Lady: there is no “we”, there is only us negligible little bundles of momentary reversal of entropy* and there is also “invisible hands”, aka self-organised complexity. And we all know all about that, don’t we.

    But really, mate, very few people – and as far as I can tell nobody with authority or power – actually takes a “whole of humanity” viewpoint. For one thing, nobody really knows who, or what, the “whole of humanity” is. We’re just lucky that at least some people can see a smidgin past their own immediate needs, because clearly, not everybody can. Maybe the closest we’ve ever got was the later Roman Empire, with all its faults (eg savage slavery), that nonetheless conferred citizenship – and therefore both state centred duty and state sourced support – on a vast range and number of people. The next best after that was maybe the USA in its post WWII mass migration days – but the USA was never as multi-cultural and non-racist as Rome.

    [* You know the three laws of thermodynamics, don’t you:
    1. You can’t win
    2. You can’t even break even
    3. You must play ]

    But other than that, the real problem is meritocracy: not that we have it, but that we haven’t. The main fault with meritocracy is that most of the meritocratic “winner” are simply not particularly meritorious. Or as a now deceased mate of mine once had it, when we would ask lamenting questions about why some piece of nonsense or other had been instituted: “Have you ruled out stupidity” !

    Well stupidity is kinda formally defined as an IQ level (presumably Stanford-Binet or Weschler) of 0 – 25. Can you conceive of somebody of IQ 25 ? I can’t. But if we go for imbecile: IQ of 25-50, we really aren’t any better off, are we. Do you know anybody of IQ 50 ? That just leaves us with morons: IQ 51 to 75. And then there’s the rest of us.

    I remember Arthur Wellesley and how he defended Lisbon against Napoleon’s army (not including Napoleon, fortunately). Well, he turned up in Lisbon with some of the British Army and immediately sent all the officers off to the Officer’s Club to eat, drink and gamble. Then he got the troops and the Lisbonians (if that’s what they’re called) to prepare: bring all the crops and animals into Lisbon behind the wall, dis a pale, put in sharpened stakes etc.

    So when Nap’s army turned up, they looked out upon Lisbon (and while they were doing that, Wellesley called in the officers) and realised that with the defenses in place they faced a suicidal bid to try to charge and scale the wall – especially with lots of British firearms pointing straight at them – or they could hang around until they ran out of food and then either starve or go home. And that is the option they chose.

    My point: that one abnormally meritorious commander, Wellesley, took charge and ran the whole thing, keeping the stupids, imbeciles, morons, retards, normals and moderately intelligents strictly away from any decision making at all. And he produced an unmitigated success – which is why he was given total command at Waterloo where he also produced a narrow, but again unmitigated, success. Yay the meritorious !

    However, my real point is this: we make a total and utter balllsup of trying to educate our young – and our middle aged and our old – so that almost everybody knows almost nothing. In my experience we don’t educate anybody except our very own selves, and that usually poorly. So with all that meritocratic ignorance in charge of everything, it’s wonder we ever get anything right.

    Yes ?

  60. GrueBleen
    July 29th, 2016 at 16:16 | #60


    Your 47

    I started to read Vinding’s essay, but then, on a whim, I searched for ‘qualia’ and it wasn’t found anywhere in the document. No qualia ? You can’t discuss “consciousness” without discussing qualia – is “redness” a reality of the universe ? Do different species experience “redness”. What is it like to be a bat ?

    Apropos of which, it appears that humans actually can experience atmospheric ‘sonar’ like bats. But is it really like bats ? Does their echo-location function anything like ours, and how does it feel ? What do eliminativists have to say to solipsists (whose ‘consciousness’ is, to them, the only thing that exists at all) ?

    [ Still working my way through ]

  61. July 29th, 2016 at 17:40 | #61


    Your #43 and comments on the defence of Lisbon

    I’m unsure if you were concluding that unilateral control is always a good thing. Presumably not.

    However, if you were, you might read elsewhere in the defence literature to temper your conclusion. For instance you could begin by reading Stanley McChrystal’s 2015 book Team of teams : new rules of engagement for a complex world. (New York: Penguin Random House.)

    A summary or review of it may give you enough to go on. Absurdly brief version: McChrystal abandoned command and control because it didn’t work.

    And there’s an earlier literature on the inadequacy of command and control on the battle field. As Helmuth von Moltke reportedly said, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy.

  62. J-D
    July 29th, 2016 at 22:06 | #62


    I write that organisms that survive long enough to breed are, by definition, well adapted.

    You respond that many organisms don’t survive long enough to breed.

    True, but completely missing the point.

    I didn’t write that all organisms survive long enough to breed, or even that most do. I wrote that the ones that do are, by definition, well adapted. Perhaps the ones that don’t aren’t so well adapted, but so what?

    I didn’t suggest that I’d given an absolute proof that in every case each generation is interfertile with the one that comes before it and the one that comes after it. I suggested that I had given some reason to think it’s the case, and I observed earlier that no reason had been given to think that the opposite scenario was ever the case. When there’s some reason to think that a proposition is true and no reason to think it’s false, I tend to the side of thinking it’s true until new information becomes available.

  63. John Turner
    July 29th, 2016 at 22:14 | #63

    An article in the UK Guardian caught my eye this week for it Kafkaesque quality and because it is a perfect description of market liberalism at work.

    A group of cleaners working for the Danish services company ISS has gone on strike supported by their union. The genesis of the dispute is this:

    In 2001 the UK Tax Office (HMRC) sold its real estate to an offshore company “Mapeley” based in Bermuda and lease the offices back. The lease includes the provision of services. The services part of the deal was contracted to Mapeley’s subsidiary Salisbury FM they in turn subcontracted the cleaning service to ISS. The original HMRC employees who did the cleaning list their jobs.

    Fast forward, the ISS employees are on minimum wages and part time hours. The government increases the National Living Wage, the response of ISS has been to reduce the hours of the employees to recoup the increase in cost. The result for the employees is that for some of them their hours have been reduced below the threshold to qualify for tax credits so they have sustained a further loss in income.

    In Australia at the present time we are rolling out the Disability Insurance scheme, sounds great in principle but the reality is that it is privatising services at the expense of the wages of those presently employed by the state to provide many of the services. The senior managers will do well out if it no doubt, but those at the coal face will not.

    Recently I discovered a huge disparity between the contract fees I was paying to a cleaning company and the wages those workers received. Consequently, I ended the contract and gave the employees the opportunity of being being contracted as individuals and being paid the full contract fee. Result, they are well paid, we get a more committed and enthusiastic cleaning service who go the extra mile when needed a win win situation.

  64. Ikonoclast
    July 29th, 2016 at 23:01 | #64

    @John Turner

    Good on you mate. Privatised employment services and big cleaning contractors are parasites. No other word for them.

  65. GrueBleen
    July 30th, 2016 at 01:36 | #65


    So organisms that survive long enough to breed are WELL adapted, J-D. That is, they’re not MINIMALLY adapted, or even maybe MODERATELY adapted – just enough for them to breed but not much else perhaps – they’re WELL adapted.

    Ok, mate, now I begin to see why our interlocution has been at cross purposes, that being that you somehow think that everything I write is some kind of direct response to what you have said. No, J-D, I sometimes just write things for my own purposes, entirely unconnected to you or to anything much that you have said.

    I really don’t give a rat’s fart what your “point” is, I’m busy making my own points. Can you in any way understand that ?

  66. GrueBleen
    July 30th, 2016 at 02:13 | #66

    @Bob Dick

    Actually, Bob, I thought my point was that “command and control” is usually very ineffective unless the commander and controller is extraordinarily able , for instance, Arthur Wellesley.

    ‘Team of teams’ sounds like a really good idea, and I guess it could work sometimes, but I can’t see that McChrystal was particularly successful in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Should we then abandon ‘team of teams’ because it too didn’t work ?

    And whilst granting that Helmuth von Moltke may have something of a point, the success of Wellesley’s plan was precisely that his forces didn’t make any contact with the enemy – Lisbon was defended without a shot being fired. Well, not until the French were on their way back to France and Wellesley’s forces followed to harry them – and to commit sundry atrocities along the way.

    The human race has evolved and invented many different ways of doing many different things over its lifetime so far, and every single one of those ways of doing things has had very mixed results. But why ? Is there just no one best way ? Or is it that no matter how we go about things, the outcome always depends on the capability of the people involved ?

    So, can we try to have a “meritocracy” that actually contains meritorious people ?

  67. July 30th, 2016 at 17:21 | #67



    Point taken. It seems that (when it comes to ways of commanding) we may be mostly in agreement.

    In particular, I agree with your comments about “mixed results”. It seems to me that sufficiently-complex endeavours are rarely 100 per cent successful.

  68. J-D
    July 31st, 2016 at 13:34 | #68


    If you’re not responding to me, why are you hitting the ‘Reply’ button on my comments? I can see that’s what you’re doing, because that’s where the little ‘@J-D’ things come from.

  69. GrueBleen
    August 1st, 2016 at 02:59 | #69


    After that response J-D, I’m wondering why I bother to hit the ‘Reply’ button on your comments too. But I will try to explain:

    Firstly, J-D what I said was that I “sometimes just write things for my own purposes”. Can you see the word “sometimes” J-D ? Do you know what the word “sometimes” means ? I’ll help your understanding: it doesn’t mean “never” and it equally doesn’t mean “always”. ok ? It just means sometimes.

    And now, another small hint: I may be stimulated, or even provoked, by your comments into making my own points. But your comments are in your posts, so that’s what I hit ‘Reply’ to. Capiche ? Especially since in your case you go on to do exactly the same: you just go on making your own points regardless of whatever I’ve said.

    Are we all clear on that now, or do you need further explanation ?

  70. Ivor
    August 1st, 2016 at 07:37 | #70

    @John Turner

    Yes – interesting tale.

    It would appear that it is government policy to make the poor – poorer and the rich – richer?

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